Interview: James Aitcheson

Ciara Berry 14 November 2013

How different is Knights of the Hawk from previous books in the series?

Knights of the Hawk, which is the third Conquest novel, sees the proud and ambitious knight Tancred casting off some of the shackles that have bound him and striking out on his own. For the first time in the series we see him travelling beyond Norman-occupied England as he ventures in pursuit of love, of honour and of vengeance. Just as in the previous two books, battles and betrayals abound, but this time it’s personal.

Is historical fact or artistic embellishment in your books more important to you?

One advantage of writing fiction set during the Middle Ages is that the historical sources are often fragmentary or conflicting, so the novelist has plenty of freedom. For me, part of the joy comes from weaving my stories in and out of the real events, and so I usually see little reason to alter the facts. When I do, it’s always with good reason, and I own up to it in the afterword at the end of each book..

Is there another historic era that you would be interested in writing about in the future?

At the moment I’m thoroughly enjoying writing about the Norman Conquest, which is such an interesting subject, with so many facets that I’ve still to explore. If I were to turn my attention to a different historical setting, though, it would probably be Anglo-Saxon England, which is a period that has always fascinated me, and which I specialised in while at Cambridge.

How long does each book take to research?

It’s hard to say exactly. Before I start writing each new project, I spend several days in the UL immersing myself in the latest academic studies, investigating particular topics of interest and generally laying the groundwork. I also visit locations that I know are going to feature in the novel, in order to get a sense of the lie of the land. But there are often times when I have to pause from writing to look something up or delve a bit deeper into a particular aspect of the history, and so in that sense research never really stops.

Do you have any favourite literature from the Medieval period?

Without a doubt my favourite medieval writer is Gerald of Wales, a twelfth-century scholar, courtier and chronicler. A prolific polymath with an insatiable curiosity about the world, he was also a fantastic and often humorous storyteller, and his writings tell us a lot about medieval life.

You're an Emma alumnus – could you describe your university experience at Cambridge in 6 words?

Simply put: the best time ever.

And finally, the old cliché: what is your favourite book?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A wonderfully complex novel, depicting a dystopian world that is both frightening and all too plausible. Her vision never ceases to amaze me, and her command of language is incredible.

James will be doing a book signing at Heffers on Saturday 23rd November