Siri Mitchell

 

Chateau of Echoes Q&A

 

 

 

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or the other me: Iris Anthony

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On writing

1. Why did you write this book?

This was the book of my heart. I'd written three other books before this one and garnered over one hundred rejections from publishers and agents. This was supposed to be my final attempt at getting published, so I wrote what I wanted to write. I wrote this book for me. I love history. I love France. I love wine and food. This book is about everything I love.

2.   Did you have a degree in English? An MFA in writing?

No. I've done everything wrong in my career. The way I learned how to write was by writing books. The first book I wrote was a disaster; it will never see the light of day. The second was better, and with revisions, it turned into Something Beyond the Sky, which will be published in January. The third is a non-fiction manuscript that no one wants to publish. The fourth turned into Chateau of Echoes. There has to be an easier way to learn how to write.

3.   Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read both fiction and non-fiction. Read good books on writing. Practice your craft. Attend writers' conferences. Write the book of your heart. Anything else is not worth the time or the effort.

Arthurian Legends

1. Your version of the Arthurian legends differs from those most often told. Why is that?

My version of the legends are based on the Breton and Welsh versions which are older than the Chrétien de Troyes', the Vulgate Cycle's, and Sir Thomas Malory's versions. Most of the Celtic peoples had variations of these stories, although aspects of the key characters differed between the version, as with the meeting of Guinevere and Arthur.

2.   Didn’t the King Arthur legends take place in Britain?

Maybe they did. Or maybe they didn’t. Virtually all Celtic peoples have claimed King Arthur as one of their own. And the interesting thing about legends is that the versions vary so widely. Much of the study of Arthurian legends has been done in England by English-speakers. The Breton people have their own versions of these same legends. And since the Breton language has, until recently, been suppressed, it is not difficult to imagine that some of these legends have lost ground relative to their English counterparts. Which culture influenced the other? It’s very difficult to say.

3.   Isn’t King Arthur a fairy tale?

I don’t think so. The body of research has given me the impression that someone, some real person, inspired the tales. “King Arthur” is a movie which also portrays this idea.

4.   If there really was a King Arthur, when did he exist?

Some time in the late fifth or early sixth centuries, during the Dark Ages, the period of time between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Middle Ages.

5.   And the legend of the Grail?

Most legends have some root in reality. Many people emigrated from the Roman Empire in the first century. If they had the means, it was highly recommended. Again, there is vast space in history to imagine almost anything.

6.   Did you make up the stories Awen told Alix?

No. They are traditional tales. And, not surprisingly, some of these tales pre-date the establishment of the Gallic influence in France. The Bretons are great storytellers and used to pass the long winter nights telling each other stories. Most of the tales, I translated from French language versions.

Women's Issues

1.   Many readers have named Alix as their favorite character in this book. Why do you think she's so appealing?

Because she's the person we would be if we transported ourselves back five centuries. She is a modern person ill-adjusted to a medieval world. She's also appealing because she's so innocent.

2.   In some respects, it seems as if Alix reverts to traditional stereotypes at the end of the book. Why does her story end this way?

I don't think she reverts to stereotypes, I think she finally decides to take responsibility for the tasks that have always been hers. Part of the complexity of her story is that her 'modern' ideals have made her unfit for the tasks she must perform in life. All of us have tasks for which we are responsible, talents and abilities for which we will be held accountable. I think Alix was right when she said, "I had given up my duties for my pleasures, and all had turned upon itself."

3.   Alix assumes, at the end of the novel, that she has several legal remedies to her situation with Awen. Weren’t medieval women oppressed?

Yes, they were. However, they were also very valued as property. Among nobility, marriage contracts were one way, sometimes the only way, to increase a family’s reputation, social standing, and wealth. Because of this, a woman’s position in betrothals and marriages was legally protected. If a man promised to marry a girl, and if he gave her say, a flower or a loaf of bread as a token of his intent, then for all intents and purposes, he had proposed and a contract had been made. As part of my research, I read a French language work which interpreted court records in Troyes, France, from the 16th century. The ability of women to prosecute a man in the realm of marriage was extraordinary, but sadly, it was based on the preservation of a woman’s value as a marriageable asset. Not on her worth as a human being. As in any century, it was all in knowing how to play the game. Please remember also, that cultural practices in medieval France were different than those in medieval England.

4.   Was it common for women to marry as young as Alix did?

Yes and no. It was quite common among nobility. Remember, they weren’t marriages as much as alliances of power. If you had a daughter, you needed to take advantage of the asset and form an alliance as quickly as possible, while your daughter was still living and while you could still profit from the arrangement. Alix’s marriage was a special case of a prior family arrangement, but it still would not have been that unusual. What was unusual in her case was Awen’s refusal to consummate the marriage. An unconsummated marriage would have been grounds for divorce, according to Plantagenet practices. Remember that among the nobility, marriages were relationships of power, not relationships between people. Among the lower classes, it was not uncommon to marry for love and to marry later in adolescence. The average age for a woman to marry was 15 or 16, and the vast majority of women were married by the age of 20.

Research

1.   This novel has such a sense of time and place. How did you do your research?

I lived in France from 1996 - 2000 and visited Brittany on several occasions. The French are very tied to their terroir, or land. The Bretons more so than most. I used a handful of French language texts, visited many of the region's provincial websites. I also used many internet resources. Any interested reader should consult the bibliography at the back of the book.

French food/culture

1.   Are you a chef like Freddie?

I wish I were, but I'm a much less conscientious cook than she is and I prefer recipes that are quick and that need only a handful of ingredients. I have, however, either made or eaten most of the meals mentioned in the book. I have a friend who earned her diploma at Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. She deserves the credit for the recipes in the back of the book.

2.   So do you really like France? The French?

Yes, I really do. France is our oldest ally. Over time, our countries have been the best of friends and the worst of enemies. The French rescued us during the Revolutionary War, we returned the favor during the last century. If you think about it, the reason for our most of our conflicts has been that we're too much alike. Brash, opinionated, and arrogant. And most of the time, the way we view France is exactly the way they view us.

3.   Do you collect antiques like Freddie?

I do. My husband and I have a collection of 18th century furniture. The armoire in Freddie's room is one which we own. The Persian rug in her bedroom is currently located in my living room.

4.   Does Chateau Kertanuan really exist?

Only in my imagination. ‘Ker’ is a common prefix for many Breton place and family names. The Forest of Paimpont, where I placed the chateau, is the only thing left to remind us of the places where Arthur and his knights may have wandered. The 'Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien' interpretative center at the Chateau de Comper does in fact exist.

5.   You seemed to imply that in the 15th century, France wasn’t really a nation. Is that true?

In the 15th century, France was a loose collection of coalitions and loyalties. The marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII in 1137 left the ownership of vast stretches of France up to interpretation. Territories as far from the coast as Burgundy allied more closely with the King of England than the King of France.

6.   Is Brittany really that different from the rest of France?

It is older. Wilder. More savage. In my experience, the Bretons have bound themselves more closely to the landscape than the French have. Brittany had a period of brilliance during the history of Europe in the 14th century. During this time period, before the Hundred Years War, the Bretons took advantage of their coastal geography and became wealthy through trade. The terrain of Brittany is very rocky, the soil poor, so when the War snuffed out trade, and when it failed to revive a century later, the Bretons could not compete in the agrarian marketplace which drove the creation of wealth elsewhere on the continent.

7.   Is the Breton language very different from the French language?

The two languages are quite different and do not share the same roots. Breton is a Brythonic language from the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family, and French is a Romance language with its roots in Latin. It would not have been common for a French speaker of the time period to also speak Breton.

Characters

1.   Which character is most like you?

My daughter would probably tell you that I'm 'drumpy' sometimes, just like Freddie. My husband would probably tell you that, like Alix, I would happily read, at the expense of everything else. Like Cranwell, I find writing an exhilarating, consuming process.

2.   Which character was the most difficult to portray?

In my opinion, Awen was the most difficult character to make credible. From my research, very few men in the Middle Ages would have waited any length of time before consummating a marriage. Sévérine was the most difficult character to find sympathy for. My editor at NavPress was instrumental in challenging me to make Sévérine a multi-faceted character.

3.   Do you write like Cranwell?

In some ways. I write character-driven fiction, so almost always, the first inkling I get of a new story is when a character appears in my mind. My characters seem to start talking to me earlier in the process than Cranwell's characters began talking to him. I do my research throughout the writing process, while Cranwell concentrated his research at the beginning of his process. Like Cranwell, I sometimes leave gaps in the manuscript, when I need to look up facts or dates, and then fill them in later. If I have four hours, then I can usually write about 3,000 good words.

4.   Cranwell had a Boxer named Lucy. Are you a dog person?

Definitely. I'm committed to trying to feature a Boxer in every book I write (my first novel excepted).

5.   Freddie's first marriage was to an atheist. Is this based at all on your own experience?

No. I've been very blessed to be married to a man who is my partner in every way. My friend, Marion Stroud, has had a ministry for many years to women who are married to unbelievers. Her website: http://www.marionstroud.com/, is an excellent resource, as is her book, Loving God But Still Loving You.

  

 

 

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