Writing Advice – Bernard Cornwell

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Bernard Cornwell is one of the foremost writers of historical fiction. His fictional travels have taken me from the Anglo-Saxon period through to the Revolutionary War. He has a brilliant way of describing the battles and creates the vision in your mind so you feel as though you were there.

For a long time, I resisted reading his Winter King trilogy that focused on King Arthur. I have had my own image of Arthur’s world of Camelot and Excalibur since my five page high school paper on Thomas Malory’s L’Morte D’Arthur that went on for over fifteen pages. My teacher was not thrilled. In addition to that being ingrained in my head and heart, I also had the John Boorman Excalibur movie with Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, and Nicol Williamson that I was attached to. When I eventually gave in to my friend’s persistent recommendation, I could not put The Winter King down and it is now my headcanon. The next two books were equally enthralling and I highly recommend them and every other one of Cornwell’s books.

I’ve read his only historical (non-fiction) book, Waterloo is also brilliant.

Here is some of his writing advice for you to enjoy and incorporate.

50-31 – The Magic Tunnel

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The Magic Tunnel by Caroline D. Emerson was one of my favorite books as a child, and it still resides on my bookshelf. I will take it out on occasion and thumb through it, reading bits and pieces and remembering what I loved about it.

It was multi-genre, taking on adventure, history and historical fiction, and time travel, and it probably influenced the direction of my interests more than I would have thought at the time. It had everything a voracious reader in elementary school could ask for.

I spent my elementary years in NYC – Queens with grandparents in both Queens and the Bronx. The brother and sister in The Magic Tunnel also lived in New York City, and in taking the subway, something I did with my uncle and on class trips, they found adventure in the past before NYC became New York. It was originally New Amsterdam, and in their travels, they met the original Dutch colonialists, the Native Americans already living in the area, and Peter Stuyvesant.

They explored the Dutch settlement and saw other aspects of Dutch colonial life and recognized much as what they had been learning in school as well as straightening out some misconceptions from that time period.

In the years after reading this, I immersed myself into history and science-fiction, still two of my loves. I also continue to have an unfinished novel from college in the same multi-genre way, combining time travel, adventure, and history. Without realizing it, I’m certain that The Magic Tunnel was a strong influence to begin and continue that story. Even today, I still come back to it and try to tweak and add elements, thinking maybe the story is relevant and can still go somewhere.

After college, I joined a re-enactment group to study and fully immerse myself in The Middle Ages.

I still love train travel, and am thinking of how to take a train trip for a writing excursion, although I’m not sure that I want to travel to another dimension or plane.

Published in 1964, it may certainly be dated and somewhat stereotypical, but it is still worth a look to see how our past was perceived and may have been perceived by two elementary age siblings just trying to get home.

History and Historical Fiction

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One of my favorite genres is history and historical fiction, the more realistic, the better. My version of history includes mythology, current events, politics, and religion in its historical sense. Two of my absolutely favorite authors in historical fiction are Sharon Kay Penman and Bernard Cornwell.

The first book I read of Penman’s was Here Be Dragons. Not only did it feed my love of medieval history it started my life long infatuation with Wales, the homeland of my soul. The one thing that amazes me about Penman was the amount of research she does. When I did my own research I was stunned at what was true, like the Princess of Wales being kidnapped by pirates, and Prince of Wales, Llywelyn Fawr’s firstborn son as part of the Magna Carta.

Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King was recommended to me years before I actually read it. I was afraid it would change my outlook on King Arthur, and it did, but it was well worth it. The guest series I read if his were the Sharpe books. Sharpe takes place during the Napoleonic wars, a time period I was never interested in until Cornwell.

For history, I’d encourage you to read Jon Meacham, Ken Burns, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Douglas Brinkley, and Isabel Wilkerson.

I’d also add these to the list that I’ve read recently:

The Presidents’ War: Six Presidents and the Civil War that Divided Them by Chris DeRose
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History by Jonathan Horn
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
The Jet Sex: Airline Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon by Victoria Vantoch