Before there was the novel, there were the stories...

by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Introduction to "An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England"

From the novel.


The very fact that you are reading these words means I have accomplished what I set out to do by writing An Involuntary king. Let me explain.

My parents sent me to a one-week summer camp run by our church out the road from Juneau, Alaska, when I was twelve. By some happy chance, they asked if I could stay for the second week as they were going away. During that second week, I met a girl a year younger than I named Laura. We both loved to play act, and we and two other girls started playing Indian princess. Laura was Princess Sunshine.

Now I should explain that I almost never played female roles. I was a solid fan of Richard Greene's TV series, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and when I could rope friends into playing Robin Hood with me, I was always Robin. From an early age, I preferred the active male characters. I was more likely to play the brother when we played house. I will leave it to child psychologists to explain this. In my opinion, male characters were just more interesting. I mostly still think they are, even though many more interesting female characters are available now.

So I was the Indian brave, whose name I do not recall, who was in love with and charged with rescuing Princess Sunshine. Somehow, after only an hour or two, Indian Princess Sunshine turned into medieval English Princes Sunshine. Laura and I were both Peter O'Toole freaks, and I named the suitor of Princess Sunshine "Lawrence" in honor of his role as Lawrence of Arabia. He became King Lawrence and she was queen Sunshine. We actually held a royal wedding in the lovely chapel at camp made by a huge evergreen tree's branches. We got to dinner early so we could claim the seats of honor at the top of the “T” formed by the tables. I do not think the other campers had any idea they were attending the wedding feast of a king and queen.

What happened next was the tipping point for all of this because, when our short time together at camp was over, Laura had to go back to her town, Ketchikan, and I back to Juneau. Now this was long before the Internet, and text messaging. It was even before long distance calls were something one made casually. All we had were letters. We decided to write to each other, as Nan and Laura and as Lawrence and Josephine.

Unfortunately, to persist with the fictional correspondence there had to be a reason why the royal pair was continually separated. It became difficult to maintain this, so at some point about a year or so later we switched to "scenes", which were what we called the stories about Lawrence and Josephine. Between us, we wrote dozens of letters and then stories . The opportunity to write fiction at such a young age with a partner who shared the enthusiasm was a priceless gift to my imagination.

The enthusiasm for the stories eventually waned for Laura, but grew into an obsession for me. I was the one who developed many of the supporting characters, and I lived excitedly each day for the mail in hopes Laura would have sent me the next chapter of the story we were writing together. In the meantime, I roped friends into playing new characters. I remember sitting on a city bus in Chicago, where we had moved, feeling lonely and wishing that at the next stop Lawrence, Josephine, Shannon and Rory would get on and come sit with me.

Who did the name "Josephine" come from? Laura doubts this version of the event, but I remember when she told me she was changing Sunshine's name to Josephine after having read a novel about Napoleon's empress. It was about this same time that I decided that since the encyclopedias seemed to skip the intervening years between the Romans and Charlemagne, we should set the stories in the late 8th century, just before Charlemagne was made Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD. Not knowing one thing about the Anglo-Saxon era in English history, and Laura not caring one way or another, we continued to set the scenes in castles and have the semi-villain Elerde of Brittany speaking French. Even when I first started rewriting the stories in 2006, they were anachronistic in the same way. The first scene showed Lawrence taking the keep's stone steps three at a time on his way to his father's counsel chamber.

Laura lost interest in the stories when she was about seventeen. For a few years, I tried to talk friends into writing with me, and I had some success. There was Linda who played Heather (Shannon's wife in the old stories) and Sean, another bard ("Sean of Connery", incidentally); Suellen who was Michael to my Samir, not in the final version, but Roddy MacDhui, Samir's lover, is); and a couple others. I had by this time created Shannon O'Neill and Rory McGuinness -- the fruit of my growing passion for Ireland after seeing Disney's The Fighting Prince of Donegal. Finally, the lack of interaction with others on the scenes meant they lapsed. After a few half-hearted attempts at continuing the writing alone, somewhere around my second year in college I put all the stories away and went on with my life.

Fast-forward a few decades. I had started an online group called "Ghostletters" and after a period of being off the group, I decided to come back. I was casting about for characters to play on the group when my husband, Jim Tedford, suggested I use my "Christenlande" (the original name for the kingdom) characters. I had lost a lot of eyesight since I was in college. I could no longer read the old stories, the inventory of which had more than doubled when Laura sent all my own stories back to me. I asked Jim as a Christmas present to put all my stories into a document I could read with the speech output software on my computer. He now knew the characters in the stories as well as or better than I did. Grateful on two counts now, I decided to play two characters, Lorin, Josephine's brother, and Juliana, the king's mistress. It was in fact a story about Juliana that led me to start rewriting the old stories. I got to the sexy point in the story only to find that part missing. It struck me that as an adult I could now write about sex from experience. I started rewriting the whole Juliana thread . I had a blast. And I decided to rewrite the entire story, from beginning to whatever end I selected from the many I had tried.

I wrote all these stories and posted them on Ghostletters. As they grew from a few to dozens, I realized I was writing a novel. It would be a novel that would have a special purpose, and that is to immortalize my characters that had meant so much to me, to give them a life independent of me. Conceivably, they would live after I was gone, and not be dissipated thought waves but something still catching people's imaginations. This is why I said at the beginning of this introduction that the very fact that you are holding this book and reading it means my purpose is fulfilled.

Whatever happened to Laura? I found her soon after I started writing the stories again. She was not sure she wanted to get involved in the project, but as we talked by email, she warmed to the subject. I gave her veto power over Josephine's characterization and actions. As a result, Josephine got more interesting and active. Partly because of that, Lawrence also got more well rounded. Our mutual favorite character always was and is Rory, the gentle, spiritual, devoted admirer of Josephine. As we talked about storylines involving Rory, it came to both of us that Rory deserved a true love of his own. Laura and I started writing a story, set some years after the end of this novel, where he realizes the folly of his spiritual love for the queen and finds and marries the woman he was meant to be with. I am afraid you will have to visit my web site ( to learn more about that!

I am very proud of this book. I hope it is a ripping good read for you. I am proud of the effort I have made to make the book more authentic for the era I chose. The castles have made way for the timber walled fortresses, the knights in shining armor for the gruesome shield-wall. Lawrence and Josephine, as well as others from the old stories kept their anachronistic names for the sake of my own nostalgia, but other things and places come closer to the actuality.

Laura and I also decided that some of the old storylines were just plain wrong. We once called the stories "Faithful Forever". Read the book to see if that title was accurate, but I will tell you now, there is no Juliana in this novel.

I have included maps, a list of characters and a glossary for your use. I welcome comments and questions about this and future novels. My profound hope is that you will come to love these characters, (well, except for Gadfrid and Malcolm -- I'll leave to you whether Elerde is villain or hero), and will pass them around to friends so the fellowship can go on for years to come.

Nan Hawthorne

Bothell, Washington State

June 2008


No one could have a better supporter than my husband, Jim Tedford. In every way he encouraged, assisted, and cheerleaded this novel, putting almost as much love into it as I. He is my own personal Lawrence and Rory all wrapped up in one beloved.

I also want to thank Jack Graham and his Medieval History Club at E. B. king High School. When I needed help plotting battles, Jack and the club were there to help, becoming perhaps some of the first to throw names like "King Lawrence" around. They did a magnificent job, as these pages will attest. Jack alone is a treasure, and we enjoyed the time we spent together on battles so much we plan to co-author a novel or two in the near future.

There are many others. Lori Real Northon who taught me more than I could have imagined about Anglo-Saxon England. You will find her immortalized as Eormenthryth in these pages. I met her through a reenactment group called Regia Anglorum, and I want to single out Andrew Nicholson from that group and thank him for his tolerance and generosity.

Carla Nayland, author of "Paths of Exile" and "Ingvald's Daughter", served as inspiration and ever-patient mentor.

Of course, I have to thank Sir Timothy Berners-Lee and the others who developed the Internet and specifically the web because without it I could have done little or none of this, including contacting all the people whom I asked questions about Lincolnshire, the Rivers Welland, Trent and Humber, about Grantham and its environs, about details of Anglo Saxon life. Don't blame any of them if I get something wrong. Chalk it up to having more data than space to store it in my head.

Thanks finally to all who encouraged me and helped me, in particular Greta Marlow, another novelist who proofed this book (twice) and thinks Elerde deserves his own novel, Barbara Rogers, Brandy Purdy, a terrific author (the remarkable novel "The Confession of Piers Gaveston" and "Vengeance Is Mine") and my business partner at, and Barbara Weitbrecht and the others on Ghostletters ( who patiently read all the little stories as I crafted this book.

Author's Note

Everything in this novel is fiction. Nothing in it should be taken as historical fact. The characters are entirely figments of my and my friend Laura's imaginations and should not be regarded as representations of any person living or dead.

The information in An Involuntary king on medical treatments using herbs should not be taken as advice or instructions.

Further, as this novel represents an adaptation of stories we wrote when we were teenagers, certain elements, such as character names, are completely anachronistic and preserved as a tribute to our earlier stories. I did a great deal to make Lawrence, Josephine, and their world authentically late 8th century Saxon, but in every circumstance, storytelling and preservation of the old stories took precedence.

I am creating a web site that will include the old stories we wrote, new stories about the characters, and other tidbits for those who enjoy this novel and want more. You can find it by visiting You can also contact me by email through that site. And I dearly hope you will.

Nan Hawthorne

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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .