Many of you will have at least read Lancelot and the Wolf. Some of you will be following the series. On each page, dedicated to a single book, I will try to explain what motivated me into writing that particular novel. I hope to expand on principles touched in the novels and explain the thought processes I, and Lancelot, went through during the adventure we present to you at the end.
Lancelot came to me by virtue of a book I wrote about angels. That story will never see the light of day because the only character who really worked was Lancelot. When I realised I’d failed to write about angels (there are seven versions of this book on my laptop) my sister said to me, “Why not write about what you know?” I said, “I can never write a medieval historical novel, I’d be too scared of getting it wrong.” She said, “Man up and get over yourself.” Or words to that effect.
During this time I’d been reading The Knight of the Cart. Chretien de Troyes stories about Lancelot and his love for Guinevere, written for Marie of France, Countess of Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I’d also been watching the new BBC series Merlin and Spartacus started. All this coalesced in my addled mind and Lancelot, my version, came into being. Within twelve weeks I had the first draft finished, another twelve and Lancelot and the Sword was done, quickly followed by Lancelot and the Grail. It was a busy year.
I realised several things when I began writing these books. One, Arthur never punishes Lancelot for his affair with Guinevere. She is the one tied to the stake and Lancelot is forced to kill his friend to save her life (I believe this is Mallory’s version). Two, Lancelot loves Guinevere, but he also loves Arthur. His guilt over this love is acknowledged through his failure to touch the Grail. He sees it in a vision, but his love for his Queen steals his chances for true bliss. He is broken by this experience. Three, a medieval knight is not a man to tangle with lightly. He loves Guinevere in the stories and rejects all other women – see The Lady of Shallot – for the most heartbreaking version. Why does he love the unattainable? Why does any man? Perhaps because he cannot open his heart enough for a normal love. He is a warrior, a man set apart by society to kill others in battle. His love for the Queen is a reflection of his separation, even from his peers for his undeniable prowess. Four, the original stories are full of fanciful notions of Griffins, fairies, Green Men, witches and spells of love and weakness. Gawain’s adventures are a fine example of how such magic existed alongside the real battles and tournaments of court life. The original Welsh texts are graced with mystery and magic in the great Celtic traditions.
Lancelot is a character created during the twelfth century Renaissance, he doesn’t appear in the earlier stories by the Welsh bards or Geoffrey of Monmouth. Therefore I wanted to set Arthur in a version of Medieval England which never existed. I could go on forever justifying my reasons, and will in another part of this site, as to why the Arthurian myths are used repeatedly to describe and reflect the societies in which they are written, but here isn’t the place. I also chose to use South Wales as the physical location for Camelot (which I describe as England and it isn’t, I’m sorry I was thinking like a Medieval King), near Carmarthen and Arthur’s reign during the mid fifteenth century. Mainly because I love the fighting, armour and general violence of the period. I couldn’t have Lancelot and Arthur dressed like Norman knights, or Saxon thanes. I wanted them to ride horses, wear shiny plate and wield big swords during tournaments. This is my story after all, so I get to build the world. I also wanted to reflect a little of the actual history of England/Britain, so I mention the Romans and earlier peoples in passing to give the world depth and to create a version of a medieval city which never existed. At no point do I want to give the impression that Carmarthen, Glastonbury, Chester, or anywhere I hint at, was ever actually like the places I describe, I write MEDIEVAL FANTASY, not history. There were never priestesses living in the Abbey grounds in Avalon but it does make a good twist. England by this time was completely Christianised but I allow a bit of her pagan past to slip through because I want the myth and magic to inform my illusionary world and so did Lancelot.
In fact he loves this myth and magic so much, we end up playing in it far more than I ever intended, but that’s for book four in the series!
So, there is the justification for not writing Arthur’s story the way Bernard Cornwall did it. I did not want a historical version, I wanted the same a Chretien de Troyes and others, I wanted the fantastical version.
Now on to the love affair… Let me state here, it was not my intention to make Lancelot gay. In fact he isn’t gay he is firmly bi-sexual and believe me when I say, I know how confusing that can be. One of my characters, Else, starts off as a young boy and we (meaning me at the time of writing) are given hints that it might not be the first time Lancelot’s been attracted to a man. When we discover Else is a woman it is very simple for Lancelot and he falls into a nice safe pattern of understanding. Easy. However, when he returns to Camelot, his time away from Arthur has changed them both and the King is desperate for his companion to become more than just a friend. Thinking about it, it’s obvious. Arthur never punishes Lancelot for the affair with Guinevere in the myths, there can be just one reason for this, Arthur loves Lancelot more than Guinevere. Their growing awareness is something deeply personal and Lancelot struggles with his love for Arthur. At the beginning he feels it’s not normal, it’s not right, he loves Else, he loved Guinevere, he doesn’t want to threaten Arthur’s crown and he just doesn’t think that deeply about himself. He can’t afford to, he’s a trained killer. How many men in the army look at their motivations for their actions? They just follow orders. That’s my boy, he doesn’t want to be deep or different. He just wants to do his job, which is he very good at and justifiably proud. Other characters often feel more fleshed out because they actually are far deeper than Lancelot.
His true journey starts with his return to Camelot. It forces him to begin to think like a man and not a machine. One reviewer recently said, The Medieval Terminator, and they are right. Lancelot is a medieval Terminator, it’s his journey from this cold hearted killer to unconventional family man, that we are exploring. How does a warrior open his heart and become someone rounded enough to know peace, when all he has known is brutality? His love for Arthur, when they finally find the time and bravery to cross that line is rather beautiful (I would say that I wrote it). I can’t imagine how hard it is for men, especially men in their thirties, forties or later, to finally admit their sexuality might not be the same a everyone else’s. This burden is something Lancelot explores, without too much hand wringing, because it’s time people realised being gay or bi-sexual doesn’t make you weak, evil, or stupid, it just makes you human and that’s all right. His bravery is displayed best I think, when he finally consents to Arthur’s love.
Lancelot grows and deepens as the books go on, but in The Wolf, his journey is just beginning and it’s a hard path for all, as we follow his growth. This book is primarily two things, an adventure yarn to set Camelot and the people in a mythical world full of medieval mayhem and a love story of two men trying to come to terms with a terrifying conclusion. They would rather love each other than anyone else.
Research into the period about homosexual relationships has given me some interesting insights. Lesbians aren’t mentioned because women don’t matter in the Biblical context. Opinions vary about men during the Middle Ages depending on who sat on the throne in the Vatican. Don’t forget, Medieval Europe was controlled utterly by her faith in the Catholic church. Paganism in Western Europe vanished by the ninth century at the latest. I’ll discuss homosexuality in more detail when I’m feeling clever enough to untangle the research I’ve done. It’s not all bad news. There is evidence that knights were buried in the same tombs together and their effigies are holding hands. There is also a medieval version of Lancelot’s life which has been rescued from the dust by some very clever academics, I suggest reading it, but it made me cry. It’s called Lancelot the Lord of the Distant Isles or, The Book of Galehaut. A very sad and beautiful story of true courtly love, not the kind I write.
There you have it, a lot of words to explain how and why this adventure with Lancelot, Arthur and Co started. Lancelot drove the story and still does, he surprises me constantly with his decisions. I always have a plan and a place I need him to go, but he fills out the skeleton of the book. I have almost nothing to do with it. The language I use is contemporary English because I am not writing in cod Shakespearian to satisfy those people who insist on a version of English that never existed. The Court of Camelot would have spoken their version of English, via Anglo-Norman French and Latin. I’ve translated Chaucer from the original (and thanks to my dyslexia I’m good at it), I very much doubt anyone would enjoy this book if I chose to write it in that form. I write to make the books easy and fast to read. I write so you don’t have to unpick sentences and I get on with telling the story. I write in a style that will annoy some but others will thank me for, if you don’t like it, put the damned book down and go find some Jane Austen or George R Martin. Don’t nag me over it. As for grammar demons, if you’d had my education, trust me, you’d allow the odd comma to appear in the wrong place. Shakespeare never spelt his name the same way twice, you plan on telling me he was a bad writer? (She pouts!)
Right, on with Lancelot and the Sword.
See the first part of Lancelot’s Story here: Lancelot And The Wolf First Three Chapters