Friday, October 09, 2009

Guest Post with Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Author Kathleen Cunningham Guler was gracious enough to pay a visit to Historically Obsessed with a wonderful guest post. Be sure and enter for a chance to win a copy of her novel "A Land Beyond Ravens". The giveaway ends on October 12th at midnight. Thank you Kathleen it has been a pleasure.

Rummaging Around Inside the Medieval Mind

Thank you for inviting me to write a guest post. I am honored!

In times long past, did people think the same way as we do now? On the basic level of human nature born in all of us, yes, because human nature doesn’t change. No matter which time, culture or level of technology, human nature, like water seeking its own level, will always strive to find happiness, comfort, hope, whatever feels like normal.

Beyond that basic level? Absolutely not. Physical and cultural environments dictated what constituted how happiness was perceived, and that could have been anything as horrific as seeking vengeance or even war.

To portray another era properly, any writer of historical fiction must intuit the mindset of that time and place. I’ve been working with fifth century Britain through the course of the four novels in the Macsen’s Treasure Series. This period of 200 years lies between the end of Roman rule and the Anglo-Saxon conquest. Britain’s lands were divided into perhaps fifty small kingdoms. The southern region was Romanized; the west, central and north below Hadrian’s Wall less so and was likely Celtic in nature. Picts lived north of the Wall. Germanic tribes, collectively called Saxons, had settled in the southeast and gradually spread west and north. The Roman church had its initial foothold in the island as well, slowly shifting religious thought from Celtic and Roman paganism to Christianity.

None of these cultures were uniform in location or separation. Lines blurred, both along borders and in time. So after studying all these facts, traits, ideas and theories, how does the author come to understand the mindset?

We all have our personal methods. For me, it begins with sitting alone in the dark at night, undisturbed, and taking on a character’s persona—daydreaming the character through a scene until she’s so real she’s sitting right there in the room. It’s sensing the entirety of the place, feeling the cold mist on your skin, smelling the stench of midden heaps, hearing the slash of a sword blade on chain mail, seeing the timber fort crowning the top of a hill, or not seeing it because the mist is obscuring everything. It’s listening to the hero’s voice, deep and resonant because, like everyone else, he constantly breathed in smoke from the hearth. He had a habit to rake his fingers through his hair because the norm was to wear it long. I ask him: what would a warlord do when someone of his clan is killed? Shed blood in return? Follow the law? What does the law say? Will he strike back? Alone, or with a war band? If so, will others worry about his fate or is it presumed he’ll succeed in his vengeance? Will he be followed without question? Or will his clansmen waste time with endless squabbling?

So much to wrap the mind around! But the picture will come into focus. How fascinating to watch a long-dead and very human story return to life!


  1. Great post! It's really cool to get into an author's mind and see how situations and characters come into being. I have not had a chance to read anything by this author yet, but it sounds like she has the historical perspectives of her books down pat.

  2. She is a very engaging author and I too have yet to read one of her novels. I want to read the first book to this series first.

  3. Hi! Thanks for the comments! I'm re-editing that first book, Into the Path of Gods, right now. There were some (gasp!) corrections that needed to be made to some of the historical points. My publisher hopes to be reissuing the whole set of four in trade paperback next year as well as an electronic version, and my editor wanted them all to be equal.

    Meanwhile: good news! A Land Beyond Ravens has been honored as a finalist in The National Best Books 2009 Awards (Historical Fiction category) sponsored by USA Book News!

  4. Kathleen,
    That sounds like a very good idea, consistency is very important in novels.

    Congrats on the nomination and being a finalist on The National Best Books 2009. You deserve it, a very engaging style you have!


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