This is the continuation of the Interview in the Mirror series about the book Highland King.
IITM: So, you’ve told us a bit about the big picture of Highland King. Can you elaborate a little more on that?
Jeff: Sure. As is evident, it’s a story on the same order as Draegnstoen, a BIG story. Highland King takes place in Scotland, before it is Scotland, starting in 410AD, right at the end of Draegnstoen. There is both a northern and a southern Pictish Kingdom. The story makes it apparent that a civil war, generations ago, broke the kingdom in two. To make matters worse, a people from the west, the Dalriada, are trying to invade and take over both the north and south. This war has been going on so long that no one even knows the reason for it anymore.
IITM: Okay, who are the Dalriada?
Jeff: They are a Gaelic people. They come from Ireland. They eventually mix with and assimilate the Pictish people to become the Scots we know today. But this story takes place at the beginning of that struggle. The Picts, or Cruithni, as they are known in the book, are slowly losing this battle. There is a growing hope of a legendary Highland King that will reunite the north and south and save the country from the Dalriada. The main character, Doncann, is the one that is destined to fulfill that role.
IITM: So, is this a true story?
Jeff: No, it, like Draegnstoen, is Historical Fantasy.
IITM: So, Historical Fantasy almost sounds like an oxymoron. How is it different that Historical Fiction?
Jeff: They are both based in fact. I guess the way I think of it is Historical Fiction represents a story that could have happened, in a time and place that actually existed. Historical Fantasy represents a time, place and events, but one or more of those elements are altered to give the story a fantasy quality. For instance, Draegnstoen had dragons. Highland King has an element of magic. Not a huge one, and for the most part it almost seems real, but there is just enough to let you know it probably is not real.
IITM: You are writing in a mythical time, with little written history. You are writing about a people of which little is known. You are writing fantasy. Do you pretty much have the freedom to write what you want?
Jeff: Well, you might think so, but that’s not exactly true. In historical fiction, you are fairly constrained by things that are known about that era. And if you get it wrong, the history buffs will be sure to tell you. In Historical Fantasy, you still have to ground it somewhere. And so you have to use known history, known myths, traditions and cultural identity to make your story believable. You have to research climate, weapons, the lay of the land, timelines of certain events, flora and fauna…it becomes rather daunting, fascinating, and at times, a bit overwhelming.
IITM: How did you research all that?
Jeff: Initially it sounded fairly easy. I found a spot to set the story where I had a fair amount of latitude. But the further I got into the research, the more I realized how deep it was becoming. Books, articles, internet research, it’s quite time consuming. There are a lot of facets to integrate and you want to make sure you get them right.
IITM: So, how do you think you did?
Jeff: I thought I did pretty well, until I tested some of my chapters out on other writers. There were a lot of things I got right; I tripped up a few times too. A writer I knew named Gemini Sasson had written a book on Robert the Bruce. I got a few ideas from her and a little advice on whether or not a Scottish accent would be worth pursuing. I ended up incorporating that to a slight degree. Another writer, Cheri Lasota, is a fellow Braveheart fan and she had some good ideas.
But by and large, the most help came from an unexpected place, another writer friend named Poppet. She writes in the Horror/Psychological Thriller genre, but I discovered she had a real interest in Gaelic and Celtic Mythology and history. She had many great suggestions that helped make the story seem so much more alive; ideas on myth, symbolism, culture, names, and even herbal medicine. Poppet really helped me find the depth and richness the story needed. She also designed a book cover for Highland King, which really captures the mood!
IITM: What kind of themes does Highland King explore?
Jeff: Well, power is a big one. I’m always fascinated by the concept of power, how slippery it is, how its acquired and maintained, how it’s lost. Another one is the idea of the reluctant hero. At one point I foolishly thought the idea of the reluctant hero was rather cliché. After thinking it through, I realized that a hero MUST be reluctant. Courage in the face of danger is what defines a hero. Arrogance in the face of danger is not heroic, and it may very well be foolhardy. And so, realizing that, I made the main character, Doncann, the most reluctant hero I could come up with. And to play against that reluctant hero, I came up with the most intimidating, frightening villain I could imagine.
IITM: And what kind of villain are we going to meet?
Jeff: He’s a raging Irish giant, eight feet tall, and 400 lbs, brutal and heartless. You’ll have to read the story to learn more.
IITM: Any other themes in the story?
Jeff: Yes. The battle of good against evil, fulfilling your destiny, redemption, and of course, love. There just has to be a great love story in a tale like this.
[Links to the writers mentioned above can be found on the blogroll on this page: Gemini Sasson’s Website, Stirling Editor, and Poppet’s Planet]