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Author Interview with Angus Donald

Author Interview with Angus Donald by Jerelyn (I-F-Letty)

Jerelyn: Angus Donald is the author of the novels “Outlaw” and “Holy Warrior”.  This telling of the Robin Hood Story isn’t your Granny’s Robin Hood or Hollywood’s.  It is a gritty, violent, and frankly is a riveting view of the legend.  As it states on the front cover, “Meet the Godfather of Sherwood Forest”.  They are not kidding!

I would like to thank-you Mr. Donald, for agreeing to be interviewed for the PBS blog.

Angus: Absolutely my pleasure!

 

Jerelyn: I think that the term “A worldly man” describes you very well.  Will you tell us about yourself?

Angus: Well, I’ve certainly knocked about the world a bit, if that’s what you mean. I was born in China (my parents were British diplomats) and as a child I lived in Greece, Hong Kong, Zaire and Indonesia – and when I became an adult I lived and worked in Greece, Hong Kong, New York, India – all over the place really. I did six months field work as an anthropologist in Bali – studying magic and witchcraft.  I became a journalist in Hong Kong, writing for newspapers and magazine, and traveled extensively in Southeast Asia. And later I was a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, and Pakistan and I did a brief stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan. But I stopped all that junketing around when I was approaching 40 – I sat down and thought hard about what I really wanted out of life and decided that I wanted a family and an old house in the English countryside – and to write historical novels for a living. I feel I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been able to achieve those aims.

 

Jerelyn: Jeanne wonders if your upbringing contributed to your story telling abilities.  She calls you a prodigy.  How does it make you feel when your fans say such things?

Angus: A prodigy? Absolutely not! Mozart was a prodigy, writing and playing exquisite music by the time he was six. It took me until my mid-forties before I’d written even a single novel – my first book Outlaw. And I am very aware of its shortcomings as a novel and my own as a writer. I hope, though, that I’m getting better as I hone my craft with subsequent books.

 

Jerelyn: You have a wicked sense of humor, it is something that always attracts me to an author’s work, and I promised Jeanne to ask you about it.  Where does it stem from?

Angus: Some people think that life is either tragedy or comedy – I believe it’s actually always a bit of both. My hero Alan Dale is appalled by the horror of warfare, and yet he finds that there are always moments of comedy even in the bleakest situations. I am reminded of the dark humour of the troops in the First World War, who quite often faced certain death with a quip or a joke shared between comrades. I like to use humor in my novels to lighten the mood after a particularly bloody battle.

 

Jerelyn: As a journalist was it always your intent to one day take up writing novels?

Angus: Yes, I felt that I was learning to write as a journalist but my goal was always to leave the ephemeral world of newspapers and write something with a bit more longevity.

 

Jerelyn: Who are your influences, as far as writing goes?

Angus: I’m a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell – I think he more or less invented this genre of writing. I’ve read some of his books four or five times. Actually, I have included a little homage to Mr. Cornwell in Outlaw, it’s just a line in the middle of the book, but I wonder whether any readers will be able to spot it?

 

Jerelyn: Why tackle Robin Hood?

Angus: I’ve always been interested in Robin Hood as a character – the good man who is an outlaw; a man who stands outside of society and who defies it. There is something about living in the wilderness of Sherwood, away from the town, away from the constraints of law and church morality that appeals to me deeply.

 

Jerelyn: Who was Robin Hood, or maybe I should ask who is your, Robin Hood?

Angus:  I think Robin Hood is a myth, not a real person. There may well have been a man called Robert who lived in the middle Ages and who became an outlaw and a folk hero, but I don’t believe we will ever satisfactorily identify him. And even if we did, we would not recognize him as the fellow we love from the tales. If he did exist, I think he would have been a pretty rough customer. We have a way of whitewashing criminals over time – look at Billy the Kid or any of the other Western outlaws. They often did terrible things and yet we idolize them – I don’t fully understand why. I have tried to make my Robin Hood a little more realistic than the sanitized Hollywood version of the man, so I have made him a gangster, more or less. He does have a very specific code of honour but it doesn’t chime with the codes of the rest of society. Basically, he favours clan over country – he will give his life for anyone inside his family circle (in the medieval sense, which includes those who serve him and whom he serves). But anyone outside that circle means nothing to him: they are quite often prey.

 

Jerelyn: What do you find so engaging about this time period?

Angus: I hate to admit it, but it was a time when might was right. And I find myself sneakily fascinated that. It was a time of strong men, and women, and a knight had to hold his land against all comers – again there are echoes of the Wild West to medieval England. One has to remember that in England, only a hundred or so years before my story begins, William the Conqueror has basically stolen the whole kingdom. He declared that all the land was his, to dispose of as he wished. His barons disposed the Saxon lords and held the land much as an occupying army might do. Every time I meet an English aristocrat, I remind myself that his great-great etc. grandfather was basically an armed thug who stole a piece of land from its rightful owners.

 

Jerelyn: What made you chose Alan a Dale as the voice for your books?

Angus: I wanted a counterpoint to my rather brutal Robin, and Alan provides that. He is quite often bitterly disappointed in the amoral way that Robin behaves. Alan is a Christian and yearns for a just society, united under God, in which all men are free. Robin only believes in looking out for himself and his family. I find these two opposing principles intriguing: we all feel the tug of our duty to our families and friends and sometimes it comes into conflict with our duty to the country and society in general. When I was a child, I remember asking my father once if he would turn me in to the police if I had committed a murder. We discussed it for a long while, agonized over this hypothetical question, but finally my father said that he would have to turn me in as his duty to society had to outweigh his duty to me as his son. I was a little outraged, to be honest. But that conversation was the germ from which the characters of Robin and Alan sprung.

There is another more prosaic reason why I wanted Alan Dale to be the narrator: as a trouvere, he is able to travel about the country, visiting different castles and entertaining people with his music. Trouveres (the northern French word for troubadours) were diplomats, spies and messengers as well as musicians and I thought this might be very useful career for my main character. Also I am interested in troubadour culture. There was a great cultural shift during my period in Europe, which is sometimes called the 12th century renaissance. Music and poetry flourished, chivalry was born, and knights made the shift from being well-armed brutes on horseback to seeing themselves as noble and a force for universal good.

 

Jerelyn: Quite honestly, I find Alan as interesting a Robin.   Do you have another favorite character?

Angus: My favourite other character is Alan’s musical mentor Bernard de Sezanne: cowardly, drunken, lecherous, vain – and very good fun. Quite a lot of the humour in the books comes from him. I absolutely love him.

 

Jerelyn: Alan has a genius for music, is this a trait you share?

Angus: Not really. I used to sing in a church choir when I was a boy, but now I only warble in the shower. My lovely wife Mary is very musical, though, and I hope our little two-year-old daughter Emma inherits that trait from her.

 

Jerelyn: You have described this book as more of a guy’s book.  What makes you think that?

By the way I don’t think that.  But then again I like Cornwell and Iggulden.

Angus: I’d say it is a guy’s book mainly because of the high body-count. It really is quite gory in some places, as I’m sure real medieval battles were. But I’m glad if women enjoy it too. And there are some tender moments and a nice love story evolves in later books.

 

Jerelyn: Holy Warrior will be released in July 2011 in the U.S.  Will you tell us about it?”

Angus: Holy Warrior carries on the story of Robin, Alan, Little John et al as they head off on the Third Crusade with Richard the Lionheart. Robin behaves despicably, Alan heroically . . . but you’ll have to read it for yourself when it comes out in the US in August 2011.

 

Jerelyn: I happen to know there is a third book, when will it be available in the U.K. Is there any word when it will be available in the U.S?

Angus: The third book is called King’s Man (in the UK version, which is being published here in August 2011). I don’t know what my US publishers will call it. And I’m afraid I don’t know when they are publishing it. Sorry. You guys are about a year behind the UK publications, but I think that you can probably get hold of it when it comes out on this side of the Atlantic, if you really want to, that is. I’m in the middle of writing Book 4, at the moment, and I have Book 5 all planned out, too. There may be as many as ten Robin Hood books ultimately – fingers crossed!

 

Jerelyn: You have said you want to write five Robin Hood books, what then?

Angus: After Book 5, I’m planning a series about Restoration England (17th century) with a new even more rascally hero. Don’t want to say more at the moment. But I would like to return to Robin Hood after a while – you will notice that there is a reference to Runnymede in the first few pages of Outlaw and I would like Robin and Alan to be present (and instrumental) in the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 – the foundation stone of our democracies.

 

Jerelyn: I always ask this, but I wonder how you, as an author, feel about sites like PaperBackSwap?

Angus: Hey, first and foremost I’m a book-lover and any institution that promotes reading and books is a Good Thing as far as I’m concerned! So I’m definitely a fan of PBS.

 

Jerelyn: Who do you read?

Angus:  Everyone: I love Bernard Cornwell, Robert Low, Giles Kristian, Lee Child, Patrick O’Brian, Mary Renault . . . I could go on forever.

 

Jerelyn: Thank-you again Angus!  If you would like to read more about Angus Donald visit his web site at http://www.angusdonald.com/ .  It is highly entertaining peek into the writers life.

I also want to thank Jeanne L. (bkydbirder), for turning me on to Angus’s books.

 

Angus is offering a copy of his novel Outlaw to be given away to those who comment on the blog!A winner will be chosen at random. Good Luck!

 

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18 Responses to “Author Interview with Angus Donald”

  1. Vicky T. (VickyJo) says:

    Wonderful interview! Thank you so much, Mr. Donald (and Letty) for taking the time to tell us a bit about yourself and your books. I haven’t read Outlaw yet, (so it would be perfectly acceptable for me to win a copy) and to hear there will be five, perhaps TEN, books about Robin Hood was swoon-worthy news!

    Oh, did I mention I have a degree in anthropology? (Yes, I’m pulling out all the stops. Pathetic, really.)

    The myth of Robin Hood has always fascinated me; thank you for adding to the legend. Seriously. I’m not just trying to win now, I’m sincere. I have a nice collection of Robin Hood books, both fiction and non-fiction, and Outlaw will (somehow) be added to it, no doubt about it. 😉

  2. Jill says:

    Once again Jeri, you did a fantastic job. Your big sister is justifiably proud. Love you Baby Sis.

  3. Deb B. (bookzealot) says:

    A terrific interview — thank you both. Am so looking forward to reading these books — and, of course, now determined to spot the one-line homage to Bernard Cornwell. Ahh — the TBR stack just continues to grow…

    (P.S.: Vicky — you are shameless.)

  4. Shannon G. (forever913) says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this book. Something gritty is exactly what I feel like reading right now. =)

  5. Aubree G. (notyourstar) , says:

    Great interview! I have heard many great things about this book and look forward to reading it!

  6. Elizabeth B. (Cattriona) , says:

    Lovely interview, and thank you Mr. Donald for participating and providing a copy of Outlaw. I am keen to spot the homage to Cornwell too now … 😉

  7. Colleen J. (shukween) says:

    Nice interview! Another one to put on my to be read pile….

  8. Cheryl M. (hannamatt52) says:

    I think this is your best interview to date, Letty. Job well done indeed. Mr. Donald, thank you for writing this wonderful take on Robin Hood. He has been a hero of my since I was a very small child and to find another version (even if he isn’t so heroic in this one) is a find indeed.

  9. Leslie (karobee88) says:

    I always find Robin Hoods myths and stories so interesting because they vary so much. I’m happy to find a new take on the myth and look forward to reading your books.

  10. Pamela S. (Cosmina) says:

    Neat interview. The world can never have enough books written about Robin Hood. I love it that this book is not so nice, not so romantic but a real page turner. Gory is the hallmark to the times, IMHO. And the characters seem so real. Thanks.

  11. Bonnie (LoveNE) , says:

    Nice job Jerelyn and thank you Angus!!!

  12. R E K. (bigstone) , says:

    Just have to leave a comment after reading this interview. I haven’t read Angus Donald but I just put him on my list. So glad to learn more about you, Angus, and I look forward to reading your work. Keep the books coming!

  13. ANNA S. (SanJoseCa) says:

    I have always been fascinated by Robin Hood and I have been looking for an action packed historical thriller to read next….OUTLAW fits the bill! Great Interview! BTW, Angus, you seem like a fascinating character yourself!

  14. Stephanie G. (thestephanieloves) says:

    Outlaw sounds like such a fantastic book. I can’t wait to read it!

    Stephanie

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