Sunday, April 30, 2023

Q&A with Andrew Varga




Andrew Varga is the author of the new young adult novel The Last Saxon King, the first in his Jump in Time series. He lives in the Toronto area.


Q: What inspired you to write The Last Saxon King, and how did you create your character Dan?


A: The inspiration for The Last Saxon King, and for the rest of the books in the Jump in Time series, came during a long drive home from vacation. My kids are avid readers, and they’ve always shared with me the MG and YA books they loved. But as a history geek, I found that in many of them historical accuracy wasn’t a focal point.


It was during this long drive that I first had the idea of writing a series of historically accurate YA books. I wanted to show younger readers like my kids that history is not just the stuff they learn in school. There are countless other interesting and exciting stories to be told.


And, if I made the series based on time travel, it would allow me to take readers on a grand journey to different parts of the word and different time periods.


I decided that the first book in my series would be in 1066 England because that year is probably the most pivotal in the history of Western Europe. The Battle of Hastings, which occurred on Oct. 14 of that year, changed the history of England and Europe.


Another inspiration for the first book to be in Anglo-Saxon England was my fondness for the Old English language. I had taken two courses in it in university, so setting the book in Anglo-Saxon times allowed me to sneak in some Old English language into a modern book.


As for Dan, he was pretty easy to create. I was a teenage male once, and I still cringe at the memories of some of my own awkward teen moments. So a lot of Dan is just me channeling my inner teen. Of course, Dan lives in a much more modern world than I did when I was young, so I used my own two boys as role models for other actions and behaviors.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I started off by reading the primary sources—that is, the sources that were written close to the time of the actual events.


For the Battle of Stamford Bridge my two main sources were the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and King Harald’s Saga, which was written more from the Viking side of things.

For the Battle of Hastings, I used primarily the Norman sources because they provided much more detail than the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Norman sources included the Gesta Guillemi, the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, and the incredibly vivid Bayeux Tapestry, which is like a huge graphic novel depicting the events of the battle.


Once I had a clear picture of the events and people of the time period, I then did quite a bit of secondary research to see what the archaeological record had to say regarding buildings, clothing, food, etc., and I read modern historians to fill in any gaps in my understanding.


The biggest surprise during my research was how unprepared the Vikings had been for the Battle of Stamford Bridge. According to the sources, the Vikings had not expected the Anglo-Saxon army to be anywhere near them, so they had left their armor at their boats.


In addition, when the Anglo-Saxon forces first appeared, some of the Vikings were actually swimming in the river and enjoying the warm weather. Of course I had to put all these details in my book.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I’ve always heard that there are two types of writers: plotters, who carefully plot every little detail of their book before actually starting to write, and pantsers, who just start writing, and create stories by the seat of their pants. I definitely fall into the pantser variety.


Before I started writing The Last Saxon King, I only had a general idea of what Dan would endure while he was in 1066. I definitely knew he would meet Sam, and that they’d end up at the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the Battle of Hastings, but a lot of the finer details were unknown to me.


It was only when I began writing, and the characters started to reveal themselves to me, that the story began to flesh out. But, even after my first draft, the story wasn’t complete. It was only through many edits and revisions that the novel finally became what it is today.


Q: On your website, you write, “The biggest hurdle in the creation of the series was determining the rules for time travel. There was no sense in maintaining historical accuracy if the protagonists ended up creating all sorts of paradoxes and time loops.” Can you say more about that?


A: With time travel novels, there are so many things an author must think of before writing. How will the time travelers travel to the past? Once there, can they accidentally step on a bug without messing up history? How will they speak with the locals when there are potential language barriers? What happens if the time travelers reveal events from the future? And what happens if they happen to hurt or kill someone?


This last question was especially important to me since I put Dan at two huge historical battles, where he ends up fighting to save his own life. If Dan ends up killing his own ancestor, then how would he have been born?


To solve all these problems, I spent a lot of time creating the “rules” of time travel for my series. I decided that history has a bit of a self-healing mechanism, so if a bug is squished, or if someone minor (from a historical standpoint) dies, then history can heal itself.


The language problem I resolved by having the time travel devices, which are small and portable, also act as universal translators. As for the heroes of the series, their main goal in travelling to the past is to repair glitches, so the emphasis is always on making sure that history flows correctly.


Q: This is the first in a series--what's next?


A: Book two in the series, The Celtic Deception, comes out in September. It takes place in Celtic Wales during the Roman conquest of the Druids, which occurred in 60 CE. Book three, The Mongol Ascension, will be out in 2024, and brings our heroes to the steppes of Mongolia during the rise of Genghis Khan.


The next three books in the series have all been written, but do not have publication dates yet. Book four, The Spartan Sacrifice, sends our heroes back to 480 BCE during the Battle of Thermopylae when the Spartans and their Greek allies fought against the invading Persians.


Book five, The Orleans Ordeal, tells the story of Joan of Arc and her inspirational lifting of the Siege of Orleans in medieval France during The Hundred Years War. And book six, The Roman Betrayal, takes place in Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian. As for the seventh and final book, I am currently writing that one.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: It took almost a decade for The Last Saxon King to be accepted by a publisher. During this time there was a lot of rejection from agents and publishing houses, as well as a host of query letters that didn’t even generate a response.


Instead of losing heart at all the rejection, I edited, re-edited, and then did even more edits of the novel. In addition, I also kept writing the next books in the series. I had faith in my writing, and in my series. I knew that at some point, as long as I persevered and kept improving my writing, the books would be published.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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