New Year, New Book

Happy New Year. My holiday was cut a little short as I’ve been gearing up for the publication of The Bear King on January 9.

This is the final volume in the Dark Age trilogy which imagines how the legend of King Arthur could have arisen out of history. And this ending is summed up neatly on the cover above as: A nation falls but a king will rise…

You can check it out here, or order it from your favourite bookshop.

Here’s the blurb:

Bridging the gap between ‘Game of Thrones’ and Bernard Cornwell comes the third and final chapter in James Wilde’s epic adventure of betrayal, battle and bloodshed . . .

AD 375 – The Dark Age is drawing near . . .
As Rome’s legions abandon their forts, chaos grows on the fringes of Britannia. In the far west, the shattered forces of the House of Pendragon huddle together in order to protect the royal heir – their one beacon of hope. 

For Lucanus, their great war leader, is missing, presumed dead. And the people are abandoning them. For in this time of crisis, a challenger has arisen, a False King with an army swollen by a horde of bloody-thirsty barbarians desperate for vengeance.

One slim hope remains for Lucanus’ band of warrior-allies, the Grim Wolves. Guided by the druid, Myrrdin, they go in search of a great treasure – a vessel that is supposedly a gift from the gods. With such an artefact in their possession, the people would surely return and rally to their cause? Success will mean a war unlike any other, a battle between two kings for a legacy that will echo down the centuries. And should they fail? Well, then all is lost.

In The Bear King, James Wilde’s rousing reimagining of how the myth of King Arthur, Excalibur and Camelot rose out of the fragile pages of history reaches its shattering conclusion . . .

Why We Need Camelot

Arthurian lore is stitched deeply into my new book, Pendragon, published in just a few short days.  This is a story-telling tradition that may well go back one thousand five hundred years.  Perhaps even longer, if – as some think – Arthur was not a real, historical figure but based on a mythic hero arising out of tales of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld of gods and magical beings.

Arthur matches the promise embedded in T H White’s title, The Once and Future King, by returning time and again in fireside tales, books, films, radio dramas, comics, and in every one slightly reinvented to speak to the concerns of the time in which the story is being told.  That’s because Arthur’s true importance is as a symbol, rather than as an historical figure.

And it’s a consideration of this element which lies at the heart of my telling: why do we need the myth of King Arthur so much that we keep bringing him back in new forms?

Pendragon is set one hundred years before Arthur was supposed to have lived and looks at how the man, the legend, both entwined, might have arisen out of historical events.  It’s decidedly and defiantly different from the Arthurian fiction you may be used to – no re-telling of oft-told tales.  All the familiar elements are there, but we come at them from oblique angles in the hope that the reader might see them in a new light.  In that way it’s a meditation on the meaning of King Arthur, as much as being about Arthur himself.

Or as the review from Parmenion Books says:

Pendragon…. the name just screams Arthur, Genevieve, Lancelot and all that goes with it. Well take that preconception and throw it out the window. Not since Bernard Cornwall took on the Arthur myth has any writer provided such a new and innovative view of the Arthurian story.

This constant reinvention of Arthur is a turbulent process, but the anchors remain the same to hold the idea fast – Excalibur, Camelot, the Round Table and the rest.  And they too are symbols, more powerful than their mundane appearance suggests.

Folklore speaks to why we keep calling Arthur back into our world.  He is the hero who sleeps beneath the hill with his loyal band of followers, waiting to be summoned in the hour of England’s – or the world’s – greatest need.  The saviour.  The ideal.  The non-religious symbol of something greater than ourselves that speaks to the highest callings – of service, of sacrifice, of the values, the striving for goodness, that bind us all together.

There are times when we need Camelot more than ever.

This is one of them, I think.

The UK has never been more divided.  The US too.  Divided socially, politically, geographically, financially, divided in how we see ourselves, in our purpose.  It’s important to look to greater principles to find those ties that bind, if divisions are ever to be overcome.

And lest we forget, symbols are more powerful than words, more powerful indeed than the men and women who purport to lead us.  Countries which marshall their national symbols thrive.  Those which don’t, struggle.  The USA, a country built on symbols, now almost wholly communicates with them.  From images of an eagle, or stars and stripes, or the gunslinger standing alone in desolate landscape, we understand very complex, multi-faceted ideas about the philosophy of that nation.  And that communication is more powerful than anything when the USA is selling itself across the world.

King Arthur is also a symbol of Britain.  He sells a layered but powerful idea of who we are as a nation.  As we edge out into an uncertain world, we need that too.

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The Dragon

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I’ve just delivered the manuscript of my next book to my editor at Penguin Random House and to my agent.  The Dragon has some similarities with my Hereward series, and a great many differences.

It’s about another of the three great heroes of England (Robin Hood is the third), in this case King Arthur.  Except it’s not.  It’s set a hundred years or so before Arthur’s legend was supposed to have sprouted, in the dying light of Roman Britain.

The book goes into some very new areas.  One thing I’ve always wanted to do with my writing was push at boundaries.  The danger with that is that readers are very comfortable where they are, thank you very much, and don’t really want to wander off into the shadowy thickets.  But I believe the job of the author is to offer something new – it is a novel after all – and to take some risks rather than to keep ploughing the same old furrow.  But that static approach is not creatively rewarding, to be honest, and I also don’t think it’s playing fair with the reader.

The Dragon is about a particular moment in time when everything changed.  I think…I hope…that it will enrich an understanding of history.  The research has certainly been intense, in a period, at the start of the Dark Age, when the historical record runs somewhere between fragmentary and scotch mist.

When I was writing my last series of books, about the English rebel Hereward who led the resistance against William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion in 1066, I began to think about how legends were formed out of the world around us. Within a hundred years of Hereward’s death, stories were circulating about how he carried a magical sword and slayed giants. Not true, yet true, because it explained what he and his endeavours meant to the people of England in living memory of his struggle. History and symbolism bound together.

This book is about the creation of the legend of King Arthur.  I’ve looked at elements of the Arthurian mythos and how they might have arisen out of the history we know. But the more important question is: why did the legend of King Arthur come about in the first place. Why did we need it? Why do we still need it?

This, then, is an historical novel about the invisible hand of history, the things that can’t be found in the sub-strata, or in the few surviving fragmentary writings. Legends, faith, religion and the need for gods and heroes in a harsh world.

It’s about the dream of King Arthur, and of Camelot, and how it might have formed from the mists by the will of men in an age of destruction and war.

(Here’s the Amazon link – no title there yet – or you can already pre-order it from your favourite bookshop.)