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The Illusion of Objectivity in Historical Fiction By S.J.A. Turney
Objectivity. It’s an elusive thing.
Simply, when an author of historical fiction sits down to write about real historical events or people, one of the very first things we have to consider is what stand we are going to take. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about, there is always going to be a bias. If I’m writing about the Teutoborg forest disaster, do I favour Arminius or Varus? If I’m on the Second Crusade, is Saladin my hero or Richard? You get the idea. We all try to be as objective as we can (unless the story calls for a specific bias, of course) but the simple fact is that one author can never quite attain objectivity. Human beings are naturally subject to bias. Show me a truly objective human and I’ll check to see where they’ve been plugged in.
And objectivity is at its most valuable with something like A Year of Ravens. It is easy enough to see the revolt of the Iceni as a vicious uprising against an ordered civilization, because the only written record was left by the Romans, and the archaeological evidence uniformly points to a horrific level of destruction visited by the natives upon the Roman settlers and their native allies. But then, oddly, it’s just as easy to see the revolt of the Iceni as a heroic last stand by an oppressed people wishing to be freed from the yoke of a foreign invader. Because the Romans were definitely that. And because it is a natural urge to feel for the heroic underdog. But it is basically impossible for a human to work from two such opposed viewpoints on their own. If you can, then again I am looking for the cord where they’ve plugged you in…
That, of course, is one of the great advantages of writing a collaboration with a group of other folk. With seven authors – even if we are generally a bunch of authors of classical era and ancient world tales – you can pretty much guarantee a variety of viewpoints. And that’s exactly what we had. Among the writers we found a wide variety of opinions on the revolt, its characters, and how it progressed. There was sympathy for the beleaguered Romans of Colchester as they died horribly under native blades, and also for the last flicker of the Druidic tradition being extinguished by the legions at Mona. How to reconcile such opposed positions was one of the biggest challenges in the book and yet it was the very confronting of that problem that allowed us to remove natural levels of bias. In fact the discussions between the seven of us as to how anything worked or came about were probably longer, wordier and more in-depth than the finished book! The decision to write the tale from a variety of viewpoints, taken from both sides of the conflict, has created a level of objectivity that none of us alone could have hoped to achieve. A collection of fairly subjective tales has together created an overall objective story.
Heck, in my own tale alone there is as much conflict between viewpoints as anywhere in the book. This is because I have long been a student of Roman history and a writer of Roman military works, and when I was offered a brief to write some of the most vicious and harrowing parts of the revolt from the viewpoint of a Celt, my mind spun. How I could possibly take the Iceni’s side was beyond me, partially given my leanings towards Rome, but also the fact that the scenes I was to cover are to me the moments that highlight the brutality and barbarism of the natives during the revolt. A quandary. And so Andecarus was born in an attempt to create objectivity where there could be none. An Iceni warrior with a Roman past. A man of two worlds caught in the conflict between them. This gave me the opportunity to try and achieve the impossible: to become objective. Of course, I couldn’t quite do it, even with such a conflicted character. Check… there’s no plug and cord. I’m human, and I lean to the Roman angle.
Again I was saved by the presence of my co-writers. I created a tale for Andecarus which was biased towards Rome despite my best efforts, and yet scenes, conversations and moments within it were tweaked at the suggestion of my peers, dragging Andecarus gradually towards that elusive objectivity. Thus the other six writers helped me achieve the impossible and made my naturally biased tale more or less objective. And the fact that Andecarus threads through the book in scenes both Roman and native gives him even less bias. The influence of six other authors on any single tale in the book has created overall a rounded, more objective point of view. Even where some tales in the book are subjective and biased, they are balanced with similar stories from the other side, and often even the most ardent supporter of either side is given moments of pause where they consider the ethical implications of what they do. I think this method has created in A Year of Ravens an almost unique level of detachment and impartiality.
A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica's Rebellion
by Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield
Publication Date: November 17, 2015
Knight Media LLC
eBook & Paperback; 440 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Celt . . . and these are their stories.
A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.
A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.
An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.
A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.
A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.
An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.
A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.
A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?
A Year of Ravens Authors
Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, & Russell Whitfield
Blog Tour ScheduleFriday, November 13
Kick Off at Passages to the Past
Saturday, November 14
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection
Sunday, November 15
Review at Book Babe
Monday, November 16
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, November 17
Review at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, November 18
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, November 19
Review at Kinx's Book Nook
Review at A Bookish Affair
Friday, November 20
Review at Leeanna.me
Monday, November 23
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Tuesday, November 24
Review at The Maiden's Court
Wednesday, November 25
Review at A Book Drunkard
Friday, November 27
Review & Excerpt at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, November 30
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, December 1
Review at Griperang's Bookmarks
Wednesday, December 2
Interview at Griperang's Bookmarks
Thursday, December 3
Review at Book Nerd
Friday, December 4
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book
Saturday, December 5
Review at Bookramblings
Monday, December 7
Review at Just One More Chapter
Tuesday, December 8
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Thursday, December 10
Spotlight at Boom Baby Reviews
Friday, December 11
Review at Historical Readings & Reviews
Monday, December 14
Interview at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, December 15
Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Review at History From a Woman's Perspective
Wednesday, December 16
Review at A Literary Vacation
Guest Post at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
Thursday, December 17
Review at The True Book Addict
Review at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
Friday, December 18
Review at Broken Teepee
Review, Excerpt, & Interview at Unshelfish
GiveawayDuring the Blog Tour we will be giving away a Celtic inspired set of silver tone metal and red Swarovski crystal beads, including a necklace, bracelet, and earrings inspired by the setting of A Year of Ravens! Please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on December 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US and UK.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
A Year of Ravens