The website of the historical fiction writer.

Historical Novel Society Conference 2014 – Part III: The Allure of the Outcast

Conn Iggulden mentioned that one of the main jobs of the novelist is to make choices. A few weeks ago I found myself with the difficult task of deciding which two of these workshops to attend. As you can see there was a fantastic selection on offer and it was very tough choosing one. However, there had to be one winner for each day and Saturday’s workshop looked at the Allure of the Outcast with our hosts Angus Donald and James Aitcheson.

Both of these writers have cast out stories to bookshops in all corners of the land. Angus Donald has a series around the life of Robin Hood and Alan Dale while James Aitcheson’s series looks at the life of Tancred, a half-Norman, half-Breton knight who wishes to make a name for himself in an England newly-conquered by the Normans.

Having a lead character who is either cast out from society (such as Robin Hood), a maverick who bends the rules (such as Tancred), who doesn’t fit in in some way (Richard Sharpe), who has lived a different life to the one they lead in the story (Cadfael, this list can get very long) can give an interesting dimension to a story and the character’s development. Not only are they in conflict with the antagonist but also in the wider world in which they live. This is useful in all kinds of fiction with one example being the TV series 24 where Jack Bauer falls foul of his superiors despite saving the day many times.

One interesting area in the discussion was the role of women as mavericks and outcasts. There were a great many women in history that made their mark by not fitting in. These include Eleanor of Aquitaine, Aefleflaed of Mercia, Joan of Arc, the Empress Matilda, Livia, Catherine of Aragon, to name but a few. These women and others made a mark on history either by not playing by the rules or indirectly by influencing the men around them.

It was agreed, however, that even though people root for outcasts as they represent a force against an oppressive legal system or society, it is important to be aware that outlaws did not have to be likeable. Interest is more important.

If you want to read the works of James Aitcheson or Angus Donald (and I strongly recommend you do, and to read those written by the presenters of the other workshops) take a look at their websites.

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