Why I Write about Guinevere
Guest Post by Persia Woolley, author of
Child of the Northern Spring
My mother was a librarian and avid reader who had taught herself to read when she was four. Consequently, she pressured me relentlessly to follow the same course, which I rejected entirely, being happier writing my own stories rather than reading others. As a result my introduction to the Arthurian legend came when I heard the music from the Lerner and Lowe 1960 musical Camelot. That led me to White's Once and Future King which includes psychological studies of Gawain and Lancelot, and I began to read many other Arthurian novels, all with an adult sensibility.
During the twenty years between the musical and my beginning Child of the Northern Spring, I became a journalist in S.F. area, had my own live television show and worked as a press agent, all of which honed my writing skills. I also had two non-fiction books published, raised two kids as a single mom, and became a step-mom after my youngsters were grown.
I feel that every author needs to have something new and interesting to bring to any story. So while my husband and I spent several weeks in Britain prowling about Arthurian sites, I found myself wishing there was some new angle from which to tell those tales, but couldn't see what it was.
Then a year after the divorce I was re-reading Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy and saw Lancelot and Guinevere standing right in front of me, engaged in a horrific argument. When I blinked and they disappeared, I thought “What's a nice girl like you doing marrying into that blood-drenched family, with the king's closest friend your avowed enemy, and no one to take your side because you're an outsider.” I literally jumped to my feet, thrilled to have found what my first novel would be.
I'm a fan of Mary Renault's Theseus books wherein she treated the legend as based on fact after searching out the historical origins of that myth, so it was natural for me to approach my Guinevere in the same manner.
As with any good legend, the Round Table has many aspects that are timeless. But there are also a number of things Gwen personally goes through that modern readers can relate to, such as dealing with infertility, surviving rape and becoming a step-mom in a family full of conflicted feelings.
Because she's an outsider from the north, she can see Arthur's world with fresh eyes which allows the reader to discover it as well. I made four research trips to Britain, going to each of the sites she would have gone to and collecting as much local color and lore as possible, as well steeping myself in the work of Dark Age historians and archaeologists. All of that goes into creating an interesting new world for the reader who has mainly seen Camelot presented as either fantasy or woman's romance. (There is a great deal of superstition in Gwen's world, but no one gets in or out of trouble through magic.)
But perhaps what is most unique about my Gwen is that she's a feisty Celtic tomboy who grows up expecting to run her own country someday, only to find herself being shipped south to marry that young king--a prospect she rails against roundly. That's a far cry from the old-fashioned vapid beauty who ruins the Round Table because she can't make up her mind between two men!
When they were originally published my Guineveres were all three Book of the Month Club selections, translated into seven languages and made into a terrible movie. Now, 20 years later, Sourcebooks is re-issuing the whole Guinevere Trilogy over the next year, and I’ve been thrilled to hear from so many fans and reviewers on both my FaceBook page and Twitter. It seems the time has come to take a second look at a real woman who would have had to be pretty special to have been the equal of the king and loved not only by Arthur and Lancelot, but by so many who championed her in the original tales.
Persia Woolley is the author of the Guinevere Trilogy: Child of the Northern Spring, Queen of the Summer Stars, and Guinevere: Legend in Autumn. She lives in Northern California. You can find Persia and more information on Facebook.
Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court