Thursday, 12 September 2013
The Arrow of Sherwood by Lauren Johnson
The story of Robin Hood is one that has bewitched me since I was a child. Many is the woodland walk where I toddled along in my wellies and mack, dawdling behind my parents as I imagined outlaws hidden in the ruins of tumbledown walls, or scurrying between the shelter of trees. But my story of Robin, which ultimately became The Arrow of Sherwood, started to take shape the spring after I finished university. I was working at a castle in South Wales and commuting from Bristol every day to get there - on the long bus ride, and particularly the walk from station to castle, I played out these old scenarios in more detail. Slowly, characters began to emerge: Marian and Robin, nobly born and unwillingly betrothed since childhood; Will Scarlette, Robin's illegitimate half-brother, with a gift of the gab and charm that got him out of the danger his quick temper got him into; a Sheriff of Nottingham who might be self-serving but certainly was not a villain.
Somehow, five years passed. The characters were still somewhere in my mind, but they never got beyond a few hastily scribbled pages. I moved to London, got a job that I loved but took up too much mental space to leave any for writing, planned a wedding, got married. And that is when Robin appeared again. This time I was determined to tell his story properly. I had spent the intervening time working in incredible heritage sites, not least the Tower of London and Great Tower of Dover Castle, buildings that were old enough to have been seen by Robin and his friends when they were brand new. I had worked in medieval costume, loosing catapults in a drained moat, running up and down spiral staircases, stood in the rain and mist while men careered about under the castle walls on horseback. And in order to do this job, I had researched more and more deeply the medieval period I was interpreting.
I had also read and watched a fair amount of historical fiction - some of it brilliant, some of it dire. And what I wanted was to tell a story of Robin Hood that was not about a mythical figure, witches or wood spirits or fat monks or leering knights, but instead was rooted in the twelfth century world I had come to know and love. An alien culture in many ways, where violence or its threat was never far removed, where death hung in the scales for thousands, to be decided by forces beyond their control - a vicious frost or sodden crops could wipe out whole families, and painted saints were the only intercessors they could rely on. And into this world I dropped a man called Robin of Locksley, who would have to negotiate the law courts, ordeal, divided loyalties, brute force, and the distant but defiant rumbles of civil war.