Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Louise E. Rule Interviews Andrew Latham for The Review's Author Interview

Welcome to The Review's Author Interview

Joining me today is Andrew Latham. Welcome Andrew, and thank you for taking part in The Review's Author Interview.

An excerpt from Andrew Latham's Goodreads Page by way of an introduction:

Andrew Latham
[K]nox Robinson author Andrew A. Latham is an award-winning professor of International Relations who regularly teaches courses in medieval political thought, international relations, and war. Trained as a political scientist, Latham has spent the last decade-and-a-half researching political violence in the Middle Ages. He has written scholarly articles on medieval war, the crusades, jihad, and the political thought of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquina[s.]...

Welcome Andrew, and thank you for taking part in The Review's Author Interview.

Your book Quest for the Holy Lance (English Templars #1) is your first historical novel, said to be published in 2015. What was your driving force that moved you to write this book?

Well to be honest, until about three years ago I never dreamed I'd write a work of historical fiction. I'd always loved reading historical military adventures, but it simply never occurred to me that I might write one someday. Scholarly books, yes - that's what scholars do. But a novel? I have to confess that the thought never even crossed my mind.
Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics

All that changed, though, as I was nearing completion of my recently published non-fiction book Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics. In preparation for writing that book, I'd been reading pretty widely about war and political violence in later medieval Europe and had just begun to get a handle on the crusades. Then one day I encountered the Templar knights. Like most people, I thought I knew what these guys were all about: either odious religious fanatics or cynical secular thugs using religion to camouflage their all-too-worldly motives. Like most people, though, I was wrong. Turns out, there was much more to these warrior-monks than I had initially thought or than is commonly supposed. The more I read, the more I became fascinated by these "new knights", the Templars in particular - not by the caricature of them that is so prevalent in contemporary popular culture, but by the historical reality of them.

Being a scholar by both training and inclination, my first thought was to make sense of this weird phenomenon by writing a non-fiction book on the topic. The more I thought about what I wanted to achieve, however, the more it seemed that non-fiction would not be the best tool. I was interested in the Templars, not because of their supposed secrets or mysteries, or their fabulous wealth and influence, or even their marital exploits, but because of what they were: warrior-monks. Think about it for a moment. On the one hand, Templars, like all medieval knights, were warriors, bred to be brutal and merciless killers. On the other, they were pious monks, committed to a life of prayer and works of charity. How was that possible? How did they reconcile these two personas? How, as it were, did they manage to sustain the hyphen between the words "warrior" and "monk"? Answering these questions, it seemed to me, required reconstructing the imaginative world of these self-styled "knights of Christ". And the best medium for that sort of project, it seemed to me, has always been fiction.

That being said, however, The Holy Lance is not simply an academic work dressed up as fiction. I grew up reading the classics in historical military adventure: series like C.S. Forester's Hornblower, Alexander Kent's Bolitho, and Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin. And in more recent years I have enjoyed the novels of Ben Kane, Conn Iggulden, Si Turney, Robyn Young, Jack Hight and, of course, Bernard Cornwell. These novels taught me what good military historical fiction looks like. My goal in writing The Holy Lance was to apply everything I learned from these great writers to provide an insightful yet entertaining account of the Templars and the Third Crusade.

Can you tell the readers about your character, Michael Fitz Alan; for example, what are his strengths and weaknesses?

Fitz Alan has been groomed from birth to be a warrior and leader of warriors; he has great skill-at-arms and is an accomplished and extraordinarily proficient killer, he is courageous, resourceful and tough. When pushed, he is capable of extraordinary savagery and ruthlessness. He lives to fight and is constitutionally incapable of turning his back on the warrior life. Fitz Alan is also, however, wracked by a profound sense of sinfulness. Caught up in the intense lay piety of his era, he increasingly sees the warrior life he has been leading as morally corrupt, spiritually empty and sure to earn him eternal damnation. Seeking to reconcile these two deeply contradictory elements of his personality, he considers "taking the cross" (i.e. going on crusade), but ultimately joins the order of the knights Templar instead. His reasoning is that as a Templar he will be able to continue fighting, but will do so for both a higher purpose and his own personal salvation.

Initially, while in England, Fitz Alan focuses on the spiritual disciplines, learning the new life of the Christian monk. After leaving England, however, the realities of war progressively transform him into a perfect synthesis of the warrior and monk: a brutal and capable fighter motivated by a proper inward disposition, faithfully fighting on behalf of what he considers to be the only truly just cause in this life (defending Christ and His Church). In other words, he is transformed from a brutal secular knight, into a quintessential exemplar of St. Bernard's "new knighthood" - a perfect knight and perfect monk, fighting a "double combat of flesh and spirit". He believes his redemption in both this life and the next depends on both killing the enemies of the Church and living an ascetic and pious religious life that sustains his proper spiritual disposition (humility before God and obedience to His Church).

Fundamentally, then, Fitz Alan is an archetypal warrior hero: courageous, clever, resourceful, idealistic, tough and, of course, a peerless fighter. Like all such heroes, however, Fitz Alan is also "wounded". Externally, this takes the form of a recurring pain in his shoulder (a rotator cuff injury, which I have to assume was common among people who spent so much time swinging a heavy sword). Internally, it takes the form of a longing for spiritual redemption that can only be fulfilled by living the Templar ideal as fully as possible. It is the effort to realize this ideal - to strike the perfect balance between the warrior and the monk - that both animates Fitz Alan and makes him interesting.

None of this is to imply that Fitz Alan's a saint - like all great military adventure heroes, he most assuredly isn't. It is, however, to place him in his proper historical context. Fitz Alan isn't simply a twenty-first century (presumably secular-humanist hero) parachuted into a story set in the twelfth century. Rather, he's my very best educated guess about what a twelfth century hero would actually look like. As such, like almost all people in medieval Christendom, Fitz Alan understands the world in terms of Christian religious categories and concepts. For the people of Medieval Latin Christendom, these beliefs were neither a symptom of mental illness nor a cynical ideological smokescreen concealing their true motives (power, wealth, glory, pleasure, what have you). Instead, rather like the laws of physics are for us, Christian religious categories and concepts provided the fundamental imaginative matrix through which medieval people made sense of - and thus acted in - the world around them. As I see it, not taking the medieval religious worldview seriously would simply be to get Fitz Alan - and his world - entirely wrong.

What or who was your inspiration for this character, or is he straight from your imagination?

I suppose Fitz Alan is partly inspired by all those great warrior heroes of both classical mythology and contemporary historical fiction - heroes like C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe and Thomas of Hookton, Si Turney's Marcus Falerius Fronto, and Simon Scarrow's Cato and Macro. But - and this is where his DNA differs from those great characters - he's also very much inspired by Bernard of Clairveaux's ideal of the "new knight". Whereas most heroes in military historical fiction are either irreligious or adherents to some form of pre-Christian religion, the Fitz Alan character was fundamentally inspired by my desire to figure out what made Saint Bernard's so-called knights of Christ really "tick". In a sense, then, what I have done with Fitz Alan is to take Saint Bernard's highly stylized vision of what a Christian holy warrior should look like and bring that vision to life by exploring the interior life - the motivations, struggles and inner conflicts - of those who belonged to a military religious order like the Templars.

Some authors have a special place and time of day when they like to write. Do you have a special place, and a particular time of day for writing?

The rhythms of my fiction-writing life are governed to a large degree by the rhythms of my scholarly life (not to mention those of my life as father of two young children). Given my responsibilities as a teacher, scholar and citizen of the college (a euphemism for "a member of far too many college committees") I'm generally free to write fiction only during January and then again over the summer break. This makes for a fairly compressed writing "season", but I can't really complain. During the months when I'm free to write I really am free to write - full time and without much in the way of distraction or diversion. As to the particular times of day that I like to write, it works out that I typically write in shifts. The first is in the morning when I spend three or four hours drafting bits and pieces of the book. I'm not terribly linear about this so the passage that I happen to be working on any given morning might be the next bit of the chapter I'm currently drafting or it could be a passage that I think I might need several chapters down the line. The second shift starts a couple of hours before retiring for the evening (i.e. after the kids have gone to bed). During this time I generally work on revisions or perhaps do a little research to get me started in the morning. I never really sat down and planned my writing schedule this way - the routine just sort of evolved organically over many years of writing scholarly non-fiction works and I carried it over into my fiction-writing career. Might not work for anyone else, but it seems to work for me.

As to where I write, well, that all depends. I typically write at home - and when I do, I do so in my (not very special, but quite utilitarian) office during the morning shift and at the kitchen table in the evenings. When necessary, however, I can also write elsewhere. For example, while visiting my parents in Toronto I wrote in my Dad's office, and while staying with my in-laws in Winnipeg, I wrote every night at their kitchen table. Basically, when I'm away from home, I write wherever I can open my notebook with a modicum of peace and quiet (or a minimum of distractions, whichever bar is lower). Can't say I'm always all that productive in these alternative settings, but I always manage to get something written.

There are some places, however, that I can't write (or at least have had neither the occasion or desire to do so). For example, I can say, honestly and without qualification, that I have never written so much as a word of fiction in a coffee shop or pub, on a beach, at a writers' retreat, on an airplane or train, in my backyard or (perish the thought) at my office at the college. I know other authors write in such places, and do so with great results. For me, though, it's just inconceivable.

Finally, Andrew, do you have any plans to write a sequel to Quest of the Holy Lance?

Yes indeed. This past January I was able to sketch out a pretty detailed outline for the next instalment of what is currently conceived as a trilogy but which may evolve into a longer series. And, as it is now officially summer break, I have begun drafting. The goal is to complete the as yet untitled sequel to The Holy Lance before September and write the third and final instalment in January/summer of 2015. Whatever happens, I promise Michael Fitz Alan will definitely see the Third Crusade through to its bitter end.

After that, and providing the punters approve, I'll continue writing historical fiction. I may keep on with the English Templars - I already have many, many more stories half-developed for this "band of brothers" ready to go - but I may also branch out a bit. The Hundred Years War appeals a very great deal, as does the First World War (I've written or taught about both in recent years). We'll just have to wait and see.

Andrew, this has been a most thoroughly interesting and enjoyable interview, and I would like to thank you for taking part in The Review's Author Interview. We will look forward to reading Quest for the Holy Lance (English Templars #1).

You can find Andrew Latham on Goodreads and on Facebook 
Andrew's website can be found here.

Louise E. Rule is author of Future Confronted

Louise can also be found on Facebook here.

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