This week I've had the pleasure of chatting to Paula Lofting, author of Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner, about her books and writing in general. And Paula has very generously offered e-books of one - or both if you haven't got either - of her novels to one lucky reader, simply leave a comment here or on our Facebook page. Good luck!
1. What made you become a writer? I have always wanted to write, right from a little girl when I used to come home from school and sit at the coffee table on my feet, and write what came into my head. My favourite subject in primary school was ‘composition’. I would live for those days when the teacher would write a bunch of titles and we had to pick one to write about. I always liked the scary themes! Writing was in my blood, I think, though there are no other writing addicts in my immediately family. My imagination was vivid and I fantasised a lot as a child. When I grew older, life took me on a path that was opposite to what I had always wanted to do and it wasn’t till a lot of life had happened and I was much older that I decided to finally realise my dream.
2. Who are your major writing influences? I would probably say that going way back, authors like Rosemary Sutcliffe and Mary Stewart who introduced me to the dark ages. I love their style, also. Very erudite and poetic. Later, Sharon K Penman - why? I think it was her ability to write an epic saga that covered major events in a time, and she was the first author that I realised, wrote history sticking as closely to the facts as she could. I didn’t think that this was possible! Shows you how naive I was back then. More recently, I would say Bernard Cornwell, his characters are always such dudes, especially Uhtred. I try to create male characters like that!
3. How long do you spend researching a novel before you start writing? With the Sons books, I read widely and joined a reenactment society, because I wanted to ‘feel’ what it was like to live in those days, and coping without the stuff we have today. Then I sort of researched certain bits as they came up in the story.
4. What comes first, your storyline or your research? I can only go by the first two books I have written, but what I did first was create the timeline for the backstory - the stuff that isn’t in the book’s plot, but gets mentioned and is the reason why people think and act a certain way. I did a fictional timeline for the characters alongside an historical timeline. Then, I make sure that the story fits in with the historical background of the story. Sometimes I have had to work it the other way round!
5. Do you know how a book is going to end when you start writing, or do your characters ‘surprise’ you? Sort of. My books are currently a series and I know roughly where they will end, but that could change during the fleshing.
6. How did you come up with the idea of Wulfhere and his family as your central characters? I wanted to write a book about 1066, but I wanted it to be about an ordinary man, someone who was a warrior. I could have written one about Harold as the main character, but this had been done before, first by Hope Munz, then by Valerie Anand and then more recently, the wonderful book about Harold, by Helen Hollick, had been written and I didn’t think I would be able to top that. When I discovered the gem 1066 The Year of The Conquest by David Howarth, I found my man, Wulfhere and his arch enemy, Helghi. This book discussed the events that happened in the year 1066, through the eyes of a Sussex village, Little Horsted, which was where the author lived. Not much had changed since the 11thc, and he gave an insight into how the inhabitants would have viewed life throughout the year, starting from January. Wulfhere was described in the Domesday Book as being the land holder of Horsted. Howarth gives the information from the Book, his property, how much land he held and how many tenants. And so, I found myself imagining Wulfhere a family and that’s how he became the protagonist, along with his neighbour in Gorde, Helghi.
7. Have you always been interested in the Conquest era? If anyone was to ask me when I first learned about it, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, but I remember watching Michael Wood’s In Search for the Dark Ages and thinking, I’ve heard of this family, this battle, this event, but I could not put my finger on when.
8. There are 2 books so far, Sons of the Wolf, and The Wolf Banner, how many more adventures are there to come? Did you know how many books would be in the series when you started writing the story? Well, I had this idea it would be a big sweeping epic saga and had always planned to go beyond the Battle of Hastings. I have always had this idea it would be about 4-5 books.
9. I love Tovi and think he’s absolutely wonderful – do you have personal favourites among your characters? Apart from Wulfhere, and Harold, I think my favourite characters are definitely Tovi, I think he pulls at my heartstrings and really is a victim of his parents. Freyda, because she is growing up and becoming less selfish, Aemund, because he makes me laugh and is a cheeky chappy, Burghred, because he too is a victim of other people’s doings, and I am enjoying Winflaed as she comes into her own, now, the only one in her family that sees things through objective eyes, can weigh up the facts and come out with a suitable solution without letting her emotions overwhelm her. And she is only thirteen! How many thirteen year olds could do that today?
10.Your characters are very human – even the hero makes mistakes and gives in to temptations – it’s one of the real strengths of your stories, was this a deliberate intention from the outset, or a natural progression from the story? I’m not sure really. I don’t think I wanted perfect human beings for my family from the start, however, I didn’t realise Wulfhere was going to be such a naughty boy! He is weak, where women are concerned, but not promiscuous, but he has trouble working out where is loyalties lie. Harold, too, is not perfect, his drive to control what happens in his jurisdiction causes hardship for Wulfhere, but Harold refuses to listen. I don’t like that side of Harold. But who is perfect? Wulfhere tries to do his best and make amends to everyone he hurts, and usually fails, or makes things worse, but at least he tries and Harold has huge responsibilities in his position as the country’s leading earl, and sometimes has to make these unpalatable decisions. They lived in a different world to today, but they still had the pressures of work, relationships, finances and family.
11.What is in store for Wulfhere next? It’s a bit difficult to tell, not without giving away spoilers – but he does find a new woman to play his damsel in distress and I’m thinking that things between him and Helghi will come to a head.
12.What do you enjoy most about writing? I love the way it allows me to immerse myself anywhere I want to in time and place, I can do things to people without worrying about the consequences for me, and I can escape from the stresses of this world, into another for a time, where I can create my own environment and friends.
13. What is the worst thing about writing? Never having enough time. I might be at work, and have this amazing idea I need to get down and I can’t just pull out a notebook in the middle of visiting a patient and ask if they mind me writing down an idea for my book!
14. How long does it take to do a project from start to finish? Do you write one book at a time, or have several on the go at once? One book at a time. I barely have time for that let alone lots.
15. Who are your favourite personalities from history? Is there anyone you would particularly like to write about, but haven’t yet? Obviously Harold Godwinson is a favourite, William Marshall, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Ambrosius Aurelianus, William Shakespeare, Edward II, Lady Aethelflaed of Mercia, King Aethelstan, King Alfred, Llewellyn ap Gruffudd, Will Hastings, Dick Turpin. Just a few.
16. Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it? Go to an event further away in the book.
17. Do you find social media – such as Facebook and Twitter – a benefit or a hindrance? Definitely a benefit. I wouldn’t have met you otherwise.
18. Do you have another project in mind for when Wulfhere’s story is complete? Yes, but not sure which one it will be.
Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview, Paula, and for taking the time to answer my questions – I hope they weren’t too onerous.
Best wishes, Sharon xIt’s been a pleasure
About Paula Lofting:
Paula Lofting was born in Middlesex and brought up in South Australlia. At the age of 16 she returned to the country of her birth where she always dreamed of writing a historical novel. Her dream was not realised until nearly thirty years later when she finally set about writing her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, which she first published in 2012. She has recently re-published it under a new publishing name of Longship and the sequel The Wolf Banner is available from 20th August 2016. Paula is also writing a series of blog posts to commemorate the 950th anniversary of 1066 this year, which can be found on her website
You can find Paula on Twitter and Facebook.
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been a reviewer for The Review since 2015. Fascinated by history for over 30 years she has studied the subject both academically and just for the joy of it - and has even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. She is now having great fun passing that love of the past to her 11-year-old son; visiting abbeys, hunting dragons in medieval castles and searching for fossils at the beach. Having received a blog, History . . . the Interesting Bits, as a present for Christmas 2014, she is now enjoying sharing her obsession of history with her readers and currently working on her first book Heroines of the Medieval World due for release in 2017.