Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blog Tour Q&A: The Splintered Kingdom

Please join me in welcoming author James Aitcheson to Let Them Read Books! James is touring the blogosphere to celebrate the US publication of the second novel in his Norman Conquest trilogy, and I got the chance to ask James a few questions about bringing this tumultuous time period to life. Read on and enter to win a copy of The Splintered Kingdom!

The brilliant second novel in James Aitcheson’s trilogy of the Norman Conquest of England.

Summer, 1070. Renowned for his valor in the battle for York, Tancred a Dinant is now a lord in his own right, with knights of his own to command and a manor to call home in the turbulent Welsh borderlands. But his hard-fought gains are soon threatened, as a coalition of enemies both old and new prepares to march against King William.

With English, Welsh and Viking forces gathering, and war looming, the Normans are forced to make common cause with some unlikely allies in defence of their newly conquered realm. For Tancred, meanwhile, there are also enemies closer to home: Norman barons envious of his fame, who regard him as a threat to their own power and who are only too eager to see him brought low.

Amidst the turmoil, Tancred is chosen to spearhead a perilous expedition into the heart of Wales. Success will bring him glory beyond his dreams. Failure will mean the ruin of the reputation that he has worked so hard to forge. As shield-walls clash and the kingdom burns, not only is his destiny at stake, but also that of England itself.

A gripping tale of battle, honor, and vengeance, The Splintered Kingdom is an epic saga of the struggle for England—and through it, the western world.


Thanks for joining us, James! What were the challenges of researching this time period?

The idea for a series set during the Norman Conquest came to me while I was studying History at Cambridge. That’s where I first became fascinated with the Middle Ages as a whole, and with this subject in particular. So when I began working on Sworn Sword, the first book in the Conquest Series, I already had a very good grounding in the period.

Even so, I found that there were many small details I still needed to research. While writing the series, I’ve read up on everything from the design of Norman longships to the practice of medieval medicine, musical instruments, food and drink, the different stages involved in the production of parchment, and even fashions in clothing and hairstyles.

Probably the biggest challenge that the historical novelist faces, though, is getting inside the heads of his characters. To write convincingly about the Middle Ages, you need to get into a medieval mindset, and understand their thought-world: that is to say, their attitudes towards religion, family and society. All of those things will have an impact on how your characters reason, speak and behave.

In many ways this is the hardest aspect to research, but it’s very necessary, since without this knowledge your characters can only ever come across as twenty-first century people dressed in period costume. One of the ways in which I tackle this is to go back to the primary sources: the original chronicles, poetry and other writings that provide us with the voices of the past, and which offer useful glimpses into the preoccupations of people living at the time.

Could you explain the clash of cultures that followed the Norman Conquest and how it affects Tancred's role in the story?

No sooner was William crowned in 1066 than he began parcelling out the lands formerly belonging to the native aristocracy to his own followers. From that point on, the Normans were no longer living separately as part of an itinerant invading army, but needed to be able to live alongside the English people.

Somehow, then, accommodations had to be reached between the new Normans lords and their Anglo-Saxon tenants. How did the two peoples live in close proximity with one another? Was it possible for them to get along, or was it inevitable that there would be friction of some kind?

These are the kinds of questions I try to explore in The Splintered Kingdom. My protagonist, the Norman knight Tancred, is now a lord in his own right, having been rewarded for his services with a manor on the border with Wales. However, any enmity that his English tenants might otherwise have felt towards him is tempered by the fact that they have a common enemy in the Welsh. So Tancred finds himself in the unusual position of being an outsider yet welcomed by the people as their protector, and so wins their trust and affection that way.

Speaking generally, though, Normans and English seem not to have mixed. For a long time after the Conquest, English kings recognised that their subjects fell into two distinct groups – Franci and Angli, with the former being socially and legally superior to the latter – and although we have some evidence of intermarriage, it is limited. The language barrier probably did much to perpetuate this distinction. The vast majority of the peasantry spoke only English, while French dominated court life and remained almost exclusively the language of the elite.

Nevertheless, we can be sure that some degree of integration occurred. On a local level, most landowners like Tancred would have found it useful to learn something at least of the native tongue, so that in everyday life they could converse with the folk on their manors without the need for interpreters. In time, even the French-speakers in England would come to regard themselves as Angli as well, and certainly by 1300, if not earlier, the English tongue seems to have become universal.

Women play a smaller but nonetheless important role in THE SPLINTERED KINGDOM. Could you tell us a little more about the role of women during this time period, and how you chose to reflect that in your writing?

Finding significant roles in the series for female characters is, I will admit, something of a challenge, especially given the martial focus of the books and the male-dominated nature of medieval society.

Compared with men, women are largely invisible in the sources for medieval history. We naturally hear of prominent individuals (queens, abbesses and noble ladies, for example), some of whom achieved remarkable things, but those lower down the social spectrum are rarely afforded much attention.

However, even in warfare there was a place for women. Every army would have its share of camp-followers, who would be responsible for gathering wood, building fires, cooking, cleaning, mending clothing and equipment, stitching wounds and tending to the sick: all the necessary tasks without which a campaign couldn’t be sustained. (Indeed when we think of a medieval army on the move we should imagine not just a long column of marching soldiers but really an entire travelling town, complete with craftsmen, farriers, fletchers and priests, as well as wives and girlfriends.)

In other respects, too, women play important roles in the series. One recurring character is Beatrice Malet, the sister of Tancred’ lord, whose role develops from being the quasi-romantic interest in Sworn Sword to becoming one of his most trusted friends and confidantes, offering a voice of reason as well as words of wisdom, and so providing a counterpoint to his otherwise hot-headed nature.

It’s worth mentioning that at the same time, the shadow of Oswynn, Tancred’s former love who was murdered in an ambush by English rebels, continues to hang heavily over him. A considerable part of his motivation in both Sworn Sword and The Splintered Kingdom revolves around his desire to avenge himself upon her killers.

Thanks, James! Can't wait to read it!

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Wanna win your own copy of
The Splintered Kingdom?

Simply leave a comment on this post with your email address, and you're entered!

This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada and ends at 11:59pm Wednesday, August 20, 2014. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!


  1. This series looks very good, I'll have to go and pick up the first book as well. Thanks for the interview and the chance to win. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

  2. A memorable book which interests me greatly. Many thanks for this intriguing giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. This historical sounds compelling.Thanks for this great giveaway. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  4. I added Sworn Sword to the wish list as soon as I heard about it. Adding this second novel today. The era of the Norman Conquest is a favorite. Thanks for the giveaway.

  5. It sounds like a very exciting read, and one that I would really enjoy. I love the cover. Thanks for having the giveaway.



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