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Tim Walker – Arthur Dux Bellorum
This month on An Author’s Mind we meet Tim Walker again. Tim appeared on An Author’s Mindin March 2017 when he introduced those of us who love Arthurian legends – and others – to his novels in the A Light in the Dark Ages series. Now Arthur Dux Bellorum follows the legendary King Arthur’s rite of passage from teenage warrior to fully-fledged war leader. And Tim especially highlights what goes on in An Author’s Mind when writing a series. This could be of interest to anyone who has ever developed an interesting character to whom they cannot say ‘Goodbye’! So, with no more ado, welcome, Tim!
Tim: Thanks, Lizzie. Nice to be back!
Lizzie: Could you start by telling us a little (no spoilers) about Arthur Dux Bellorum?
Tim: But, of course. The book blurb gives a flavour of it. Here it is: ‘Britain in the late Fifth Century is a troubled place – riven with tribal infighting and beset by invaders in search of plunder and settlement. King Uther is dead, and his daughter, Morgana, seizes the crown for her infant son, Mordred. Merlyn’s attempt to present Arthur as the true son and heir of Uther is scorned, and the bewildered teenager finds himself in prison. Here our story begins… Arthur finds friends in unexpected quarters and together they flee. Travelling through a fractured landscape of tribal conflict and suspicion, they attempt to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, whilst keeping a wary eye on Saxon invaders menacing the shoreline. Arthur’s reputation as a fearsome warrior grows as he learns the harsh lessons needed to survive and acquire the skills of a dux bellorum, a lord of war.’
Lizzie: An impressive line-up! How do you feel now you’ve finished writing the fourth novel in the series?
Tim: Exhausted, elated, thirsty.
Lizzie:So, who’s your favourite character?
Tim: My favourite character in Arthur Dux Bellorum is Arthur. It is my aim to portray one of Britain’s greatest figures of legend as a real, believable Sixth Century figure. At the start of the story, Arthur is a thin, dirty teenager, unwashed, with long, lank hair, wasting away in body and spirit in a deep dungeon. As with most teenagers, he sulks and looks to blame others for his misfortune. In this case, his mentor, Merlin (spelled Merlyn in the book), whom he feels has betrayed him to further the objectives of the secretive Healer. Arthur is soon reconciled to Merlyn after the prison break but harbours a grudge that surfaces from time to time over the mysterious circumstances of his conception and birth. Arthur attaches himself to the charismatic and confident Gawain, who gives the youth a diplomatic version of the rape of his mother by King Uther Pendragon. Arthur’s trust in Merlyn turns to bitterness after he forces the old man to admit his role in the deception and rape of his mother, Ygerne. Arthur is told by Merlyn that his destiny is to unite and lead the hard-pressed Britons in defence of their island from Saxon and other invaders. This is a burden to the young man, who, under Gawain’s guidance, acquires the skills of a warrior and slowly grows into the expectations of his position as they travel across a fractured landscape full of danger. It is a coming of age story, and Arthur must deal with much-mixed emotions whilst learning who he can and can’t trust.
Lizzie:Who is/are the hero(es)? Who are the villains? And why?
Tim: Arthur’s team includes Merlyn, Gawain, and Arthur’s bodyguards, Varden and Herrig. These are the heroic figures who fight by Arthur’s side and watch out for him as he grows from willowy youth to a strong and determined man. Every story needs a good villain or two, and in this one, Uther’s first-born daughter, Morgana, and her unpleasant son, Mordred, step up to the mark. Morgana is the one who seizes the crown for her own son (Uther’s grandson), Mordred, imprisons Arthur and plots his death, then sends her husband in pursuit of the fugitive band following their escape.
Lizzie: Which character would you most like to invite to dinner this evening and why? Who would you invite along too? What would you hope to learn?
Tim: I would love to have dinner with Merlyn the Healer (and some say, sorcerer) to find out about his beliefs, motivations, sources of learning, and visions of how he sees a future for the Britons. Morgana could also join us, as she was once Merlyn’s pupil and had secretly loved the tall, mysterious man, before his rejection fueled the bitterness and hatred in her heart. I would love to set them against each other and sit back to watch the sparring match!
Lizzie:Do your characters change in your story? Is this important?
Tim: Yes, they do and it is important to show how they have changed. The action takes place over a period of about twelve years, so there are some jumps forward in time. This is always a challenge to deal with, and characters must visibly age and change attitudes or beliefs as a consequence of experiences. Arthur matures from a youth to a strong man, able to match his minders in horsemanship, fighting ability and sound judgement in decision-making.
Lizzie: If you were a casting director for a film/tv version, who would you cast in which roles?
Tim: I see my Arthur being portrayed by a Welsh, Scots or Irish actor with dark colouring to reflect a pre-Anglo-Saxon Celtic Britain. Perhaps young Welsh TV actor, Gwilym Lee as Arthur, and the slightly older Ioan Gruffud as Gawain, with the brilliant Dougray Scott as Merlyn! Also, the seductive and dangerous Katie McGrath, who plays Morgana in the television series, Merlin, could continue her role in this film. Varden could be played by Colin Morgan, the youthful Merlin in the television series.
Lizzie: What moments in the novel do you like best?
Tim: My favourite part is when our battle-weary group reach Vindolanda Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall and find it occupied and well-maintained, with the unexpected pleasure of finding one of Gawain’s friend’s and fellow knights, Bors, as Commander of the Watch. I found much historical detail on Vindolanda Museum’s website to add detail to my depiction of how it might have looked a hundred years-or-so after the Romans had evacuated it.
Lizzie: They say all fiction is autobiographical. What is the most significant event/setting for you personally in the story and why?
Tim: My personal interest in this story is in the parallel with our own times of uncertainty over Britain leaving the European Union and what future awaits us in an independent, but perhaps economically isolated, country. The early Dark Ages fascinates me – the speculation by historians (for little is known in detail) of what happened when post-Roman Britannia reverted to tribal lands, leadership and customs, and the growing influence of early Christianity is a worried land. Civil conflicts between neighbouring tribes, old scores being settled, certainly weakened the Britons and made it easier for invaders from north, south, east and west. No wonder it is believed that Iron Age hill forts were re-occupied at this time! Will Britain become vulnerable again to malevolent and powerful foreign self-interest? A wounded animal is soon set upon by the pack (…of money traders in Wall Street, perhaps). What is our contemporary version of ‘running to the hills’? Who will be our hero to unite the people in defiance to externalthreat? Boris Kerfuffle Johnson? He’s not my Arthur…
Lizzie: When writing, do you like to plan in detail or set up a situation and see where it takes your characters?
Tim: My journalism background means I’m comfortable with researching my subject. Plenty of reading, watching television documentaries, accompanied by note–taking, feed into the narrative. I get ideas from other fiction and reading folk tales, such as the Welsh Mabinogion, in which King Arthur appears in a number of stories. The Welsh claim Arthur as a real historical figure, most likely based at the former Roman legion town of Isca Augusta, now called Caerleon, in the early years of the Sixth Century. This is a comfort to me, as I am also keen to lap up all mentions of a real, historical Arthur, buried beneath the legend.
Lizzie: How would you describe the genre of your book, if any? What drew you to this genre?
Tim: My approach to this series conforms to the ‘historical fiction’ genre, as Book One, Abandoned, is set in the year 410AD, the year given as Rome’s final separation from their Province of Britannia, and takes place at the dockside in Londinium (London) as the last Governor leaves on the last galley. My intention is to present and imagined history of Britain in the years after Roman occupation, building a narrative around scraps of speculation from various historians, chroniclers and monks as to who the early leaders might have been. By Book Three, Uther’s Destiny, I have crossed over into the realm of Arthurian Legend, but plough on in the same style and approach, as if my versions of the stories of Uther, Merlin and Arthur (as told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Twelfth Century) are ‘real’. In fact, a new genre has sprung up recently on Amazon – ‘Alternative History’. This is also a useful category for my book series, A Light in the Dark Ages, as it opens the door for creating an alternative/parallel/imagined series of events in a real, physical setting. These stories can sit in the black hole in our history – the time between record–keeping Romans and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Even here, there is little mention of the defeated Britons, as history is told by the winners.
Lizzie: What comes next?
Tim: I am currently working on the follow-up to Arthur Dux Bellorum – Arthur Part Two. I’ve yet to settle on a title so the working title is, Arthur Rex Britonnum although some have advised me that having Latin in the title could put off potential readers. The second book will take Arthur from late-twenties to his eventual demise at the Battle of Camlann. I have visited a couple of sites of former Roman towns where Arthur will be based in this book – Wroxeter (formerly Viriconium – near Shropshire) and Caerleon (formerly Isca Augusta – in South Wales). I have been searching for early mentions of King Arthur in literature, including the Mabinogion – a collection of early Welsh folk tales. In Wales, King Arthur is regarded as a real historical figure, believed to have held court at Isca/Caerleon.
Lizzie: Thank you, Tim, for such detailed responses. It must be a challenge to make a ‘real world’ out of such a little-known period of our history. I enjoyed Uther’s Destiny. I look forward to reading more!
Tim Walker is an independent author living in Datchet, East Berkshire. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper, The Woolton Mercury. A media career ensued, including a stint overseas in Zambia. Tim’s creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2015, following a visit to the near-by site of a former Roman town. The first book in this series, Abandoned, starts in the year 410 AD, the date given for the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. The aim of the series is to connect the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend, through researched history, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the early Dark Ages.
Abandoned (second edition 2018), is followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017), and Book Three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Tim’s latest book is Arthur, Dux Bellorum, a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur, published in March 2019. Book Four in the A Light in the Dark Ages series, it won two book awards in April 2019: One Stop Fiction Book of the Monthand The Coffee Pot Book Club Book Award. He plans to write a second Arthur book for 2020 publication. Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker. Tim is self-published under his brand name, timwalkerwrites.
Tim has also written two books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales(2015), and Postcards from London(2017); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn(2016); and two children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes(2017) and Charly & The Superheroes(2018) with a third in the pipeline – Charly in Space.