Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Organic Storyteller: An Interview with Stephen Lawhead

Stephen R. Lawhead, author of The Pendragon Cycle, The Song of Albion Trilogy, and the new King Raven Trilogy, accepted my invitation for an interview. From his home in Britain, he answered a few of my questions about his writing, often disagreeing with the form of my questions. I tried to pin him down and make him give purpose to his stories but he made sure I knew that he is, first and foremost, a storyteller. But don’t take my word for it, just read on.

Grasping for the Wind: Thank you for agreeing to an interview, I�ve been a fan ever since my father gave me a copy of The Paradise War when I was twelve. At one point, I was even jealous of my younger brother, who shares your first name. Your work has had a profound effect on me, and spearheaded my own interest in Celtic history.

GFTW: The King Raven Trilogy, your newest epic, is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend. This story has been told and retold in movies and books. What is unique about your take on this age old legend?

Stephen R. Lawhead: I�m trying to take the legend back to the time and place where it began � not where it ended up. As with the legends of King Arthur, the old stories of Robin Hood have passed through many hands and have been used in many ways since they were first told. In King Raven, I show what the original context of the tales might have been and let the political and social realities of post-invasion 11th Century Britain influence the stories we�ve received.

GFTW: You have written science fiction, fantasy, and historical novels. Which genre have you preferred writing in and why?

SRL: I still have a soft spot for good SF. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of it around just now, and the readership for it is miniscule. As a writer, SF is a tough sell in today�s market. I blame the movies and TV. On the one hand, movies can dazzle visually with great effects and convincing sets, etc. � providing a look and atmosphere that is very difficult to compete with on the written page. On the other hand, Hollywood often forgets to tell a coherent, compelling story. In far too many filmic treatments, it�s just the same old shoot-em-up dressed in space gear.

Having said that, I consider fantasy and SF simply different sides of the same coin � imaginatively speaking, there is very little difference. One deals with an imagined future, the other often with an imagined past. The imaginative mechanics, if you will, are very similar even if the conventions driving the two genres are slightly different.

GFTW: Some readers and critics have argued that the King Raven trilogy does not classify as fantasy, although major retailers shelve it that way. What is your opinion on the genre of this trilogy?

SRL: I don�t know why some folks get worked up over this question. If the story is fun to read, exciting to think about, and provides an enjoyable experience that lingers long in the reader�s mind � what difference does it make, in the end, whether it was shelved in the Historical or Fantasy section?

In actual fact, the shelving has a lot more to do with marketing precedence than genre classification. In other words, my books started out being shelved in the fantasy section and that is where people have learned to look for them, so that is where the bookstores will put them no matter what is between the covers.

GFTW: In your novels, you often deal with the themes of honor and faith. What is the relationship between these two, and why do you wrap your stories around them?

SRL:First off, let me say that I don�t �wrap my stories around� anything� at all �. ever. They are not �means to an end� whatever some might think.

I look at my stories as living things, organisms that have grown up out of the soil of their creation and taken on a life of their own. Their make up, personality, or whatever you want to call it, is inherent in their being, it is in their flesh and bones. My stories are not soapboxes for me to stand on and shout my opinions to the world. There are no messages pasted on, wrapped up, or otherwise added on. If they speak to a reader, they speak out of their own organic being. And, I find, that often has more to do with the reader him or herself, than with anything I might have done as a writer.

GFTW: Scarlet, the second book in the King Raven trilogy, is told from the perspective of Will Scarlet. He relates the events to a scribe while awaiting hanging. Why did you choose to write Scarlet from this perspective, when the first book, Hood, was written in a more traditional present tense narrative, as the events occurred?

SRL: Simply put, this is how the story came to me. Contrary to what many people may think, I don�t sit down at my desk one day and say: �This story will be cast in the present tense using the second person plural to illustrate the dissociation and fragmentation of modern conscience from communal �� or whatever. There might be some writers who do that � and academics like to play that game � but I don�t. Instead, I spend a little time listening to the voice of the story and trying to find a way that best captures what I hear on paper. So, Will Scarlet speaks in his own voice in this book and it seemed right to let him do that.

GFTW: In Scarlet, you have Will Scarlet, a Saxon, joining a band of native British against the Normans. Was Saxon and British cooperation common in the days after William the Conqueror�s Norman invasion?

SRL: Extremely common. They were two peoples oppressed by a common enemy, and both suffered as conquered peoples, as victims under a harsh regime.

GFTW: You create and interesting interplay between Will Scarlet, and Odo, the priest transcribing his story. What was the purpose of this back and forth exchange?

SRL: Purpose? That�s a little like asking a painter what was the point of making the sky that colour blue? As an artist, I saw Will and Odo a certain way; how those two characters interacted was part of the story so it had to be told just that way. Again, I don�t think in terms of purposes, of using stories to further some external agenda or advance some message of my own. I�m mainly interested in finding ways to allow them to achieve their full potential as stories.

GFTW: How much time did you spend researching the Robin Hood story before beginning your tale?

SRL: There are two levels of research involved, I think. On one level, I�ve been researching British history for over two decades now, and the result of living, traveling, and working in Britain informs much of the book. On another level, I started reading specifically on Robin Hood about two years before beginning to write, and the research continues even as I go along.

GFTW: You ascribe to the Christian faith. What effect has this had on your writing?

SRL: Faith affects everything! No doubt it has affected my work in ways I�m not even aware of. Among other things, I think it makes me a little more sensitive and empathetic to issues of faith that were extant in the times I write about. I�m able to recognize and explore Christian themes in a way that non-Christian writers simply cannot because they are outside of it, because they nurse a prejudice against it, or because they lack that empathy and intimate understanding. My own faith enables me to embrace certain realities of the human condition that other writers shy away from. Thus, contexts, issues, elements of the medieval world (and religion was a very big part of it) can be woven naturally into the fabric of my stories.

GFTW: What has been your favorite response from a reader?

SRL: Wow!

GFTW: Looking out to the horizon, what projects other do you have in mind? Could we ever see an anthology publication of some of your early short works?

SRL:Not a chance. It isn�t that I�m unwilling, it�s that there are no early short works. I write novels, and everything I�ve written has been published � beginning with the Dragon King Trilogy (now re-issued in hardback) through to Scarlet.

GFTW: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

SRL: Read! Read everything you can get your eyes on. Read widely. Read deeply. But read, and pay attention to what works in a story and what doesn�t.

GFTW: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Blessings on your future endeavours.

Other Books by Stephen Lawhead:

This post is part of the CSFF Blog Tour for Stephen Lawhead in November 2007. Click the links below to see what other participants are saying about Scarlet and Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy.

Trish Anderson Brandon Barr Wayne Thomas Batson Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Linda Gilmore Beth Goddard Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Kait Karen Dawn King Tina Kulesa Mike Lynch Margaret Karen McSpadden Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika or Mir’s Here Eve Nielsen John W. Otte John Ottinger Lyn Perry Deena Peterson Rachelle Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Rachelle Sperling Steve Trower Speculative Faith Robert Treskillard Jason Waguespac Daniel I. Weaver Laura Williams Timothy Wise